Prosecutor brings compassion, passion to role as deputy AG
Laura Ditka huddled with three rape victims and their families at the Allegheny County Courthouse in February.
A jury had just convicted Arthur Lamont Henderson, 39, on 53 counts for raping the women in Ross and Hopewell.
“You were all strong, you were all brave. Thank you,” Ditka told the women, who were crying after the weeklong trial.
The scene was somewhat typical for Ditka, 50, of Ross, who tries to balance aggressively prosecuting criminals and compassionately advocating for victims of physical and sexual abuse, those who know her say.
“In all the years she prosecuted cases, she never lost sight of helping and protecting the most vulnerable victims,” said Joan Mills, manager of A Child's Place at Mercy, whose counselors perform forensic interviews and medical exams of victims of suspected child abuse. “But if you think her uncle Mike was tough, she makes him look like a wuss.”
Ditka — whose uncle is Mike Ditka, the former National Football League player and coach — joined the Pennsylvania Attorney General's Office on Monday as senior deputy attorney general after nearly 25 years as a prosecutor with the Allegheny District Attorney's Office. She said she sought new professional challenges and plans to start working from the attorney general's Downtown office on Wednesday. Her salary is $100,050.
“I have been doing something that I'm really passionate about and that I love,” Ditka said. “I was motivated always by what was best for the kids.”
Veteran prosecutor Janet Necessary will move from supervising the violent crime, firearms and narcotics units to fill Ditka's role supervising crimes against persons, child abuse and elder abuse units.
“What sets Laura apart is her passion and empathy for her victims, along with one of the strongest courtroom presences and ability to prosecute that you'll find anywhere,” said Scott Hollander, executive director of KidsVoice, a Downtown nonprofit.
A North Allegheny graduate, Ditka received her bachelor's degree from Ohio University and law degree from Duquesne University. During her tenure as a deputy district attorney, Ditka established the child abuse unit, drafted the county's first child abuse protocol and helped establish a weekly court for child abuse victims. She represented the office on various task forces and boards, including the Child Death Review Team.
“I believe that she is the best prosecutor in the area of child abuse, and her contributions will be missed,” said District Attorney Stephen A. Zappala Jr.
Bruce Beemer, senior counsel to Attorney General Kathleen G. Kane, worked alongside Ditka in the District Attorney's Office from 1996 to 2010.
“We truly are extremely lucky to have someone of her talent, capacity and ability,” Beemer said.
The state office has jurisdiction over certain types of public corruption, drug trafficking, environmental and cyber crimes. The office handles some local cases when a district attorney has a conflict of interest.
Ditka said getting young victims to trust her was paramount.
“You have to be an adult they can look to and count on, and take what is a terrifying process and make it somehow palatable,” she said. “Kids will respond if they trust you.”
Advocates say Ditka was successful because she treated young victims like adults.
“She very much understood the backgrounds of the girls that we work with, and she was very much an advocate in terms of protecting this vulnerable population,” said Lynn Knezevich, executive director of Gwen's Girls, a North Side nonprofit that helps girls up to age 18.
“In that scary world of criminal court, she gave them rights,” said Mills, of A Child's Place. “She gave them a voice.”
Adam Brandolph is a Trib Total Media staff writer. Reach him at 412-391-0927 or email@example.com.
Show commenting policy
TribLive commenting policy
You are solely responsible for your comments and by using TribLive.com you agree to our Terms of Service.
We moderate comments. Our goal is to provide substantive commentary for a general readership. By screening submissions, we provide a space where readers can share intelligent and informed commentary that enhances the quality of our news and information.
While most comments will be posted if they are on-topic and not abusive, moderating decisions are subjective. We will make them as carefully and consistently as we can. Because of the volume of reader comments, we cannot review individual moderation decisions with readers.
We value thoughtful comments representing a range of views that make their point quickly and politely. We make an effort to protect discussions from repeated comments either by the same reader or different readers.
We follow the same standards for taste as the daily newspaper. A few things we won't tolerate: personal attacks, obscenity, vulgarity, profanity (including expletives and letters followed by dashes), commercial promotion, impersonations, incoherence, proselytizing and SHOUTING. Don't include URLs to Web sites.
We do not edit comments. They are either approved or deleted. We reserve the right to edit a comment that is quoted or excerpted in an article. In this case, we may fix spelling and punctuation.
We welcome strong opinions and criticism of our work, but we don't want comments to become bogged down with discussions of our policies and we will moderate accordingly.
We appreciate it when readers and people quoted in articles or blog posts point out errors of fact or emphasis and will investigate all assertions. But these suggestions should be sent via e-mail. To avoid distracting other readers, we won't publish comments that suggest a correction. Instead, corrections will be made in a blog post or in an article.
- Dormont man missing since Wednesday found dead at Station Square
- Pittsburgh Mayor Peduto works to smooth path for business ties with Cuba
- Bethel Park teacher’s profane tweet raises eyebrows
- U.S. Marshals task force arrests homicide suspect in Monroeville
- $750K earmarked to help Allegheny County ‘Live Well’
- Police seek help finding missing Squirrel Hill man
- Newsmaker: Doug Ogden
- State lawmaker proposes changes to Penn State’s board of trustees
- Penn Hills votes to sell, lease vacant school space
- Kennywood fanatic, 82, rides Jack Rabbit 95 times in a row
- Allgheny County charter school students give more than $11K to assist homeless children