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Fayette County DA appoints PR director

| Friday, Nov. 1, 2013, 12:01 a.m.

Fayette County's district attorney has assigned one of his employees to act as the office's public relations director.

District Attorney Jack Heneks on Thursday advised a Tribune-Review reporter to direct questions to his new public relations director, Ryan Clark.

Clark, a legal secretary who has worked for Heneks for two years, said the district attorney assigned him the new duties last Friday. Clark said it is the first time in recent memory the office has had a public relations director.

Clark said his duties will include acting as a “buffer” between Heneks and the press.

“It does get overwhelming for him at times,” Clark said, adding that another one of his duties will be to distribute press releases. “There are a lot of people coming at him with questions.”

Clark said he studied public relations while attending California University of Pennsylvania and plans to return to school to obtain his degree.

Dominic Carnicella, human relations director, on Thursday said he was unaware of Clark's new duties. Carnicella said Heneks and other elected officials can assign duties to their employees as they see fit.

County employees represented by labor unions sometimes seek reclassifications when their duties are changed, Carnicella said. Carnicella said he had not received any requests to reclassify Clark, whose position pays $11.82 per hour.

Clark's new duties were assigned a day after Heneks appeared on Oct. 24 before a grand jury in Harrisburg. Heneks declined comment to a Tribune-Review reporter that day when he left the building in Strawberry Square where the grand jury meets in secret, and he would not confirm whether he testified.

Through Clark, Heneks on Thursday declined another request for comment on his Harrisburg visit.

Heneks' appearance followed that of at least two assistant district attorneys who were called to testify before the same grand jury in September.

The attorneys, Doug Sepic and Michelle Kelley, would not comment on their testimony.

Four others with connections to a DUI case that originally was dismissed against the nephew of Assistant District Attorney Linda Cordaro, then refiled through the state attorney general's office, were called to testify in September.

They include the district judge who dismissed the original case, the prosecuting trooper and two witnesses who testified at a preliminary hearing once the case was reopened. All have declined to comment.

District Judge Dwight Shaner of Smock repeatedly has asserted he is not permitted to speak about his testimony.

Under state law, jurors and prosecutors are prohibited from publicly discussing grand jury proceedings. But in most instances, witnesses are free to reveal their testimony, if they so choose.

In the first preliminary hearing on the DUI case, Shaner on Dec. 13, 2011, dismissed drunken-driving charges against Robert Lee Rudnik, 30, of Connellsville. Cordaro, who is Rudnik's aunt, was the assistant district attorney assigned to prosecute cases at Shaner's office that day. She told the Tribune-Review earlier this year that she recused herself.

Cordaro is one of two candidates in the November election for two seats on the county bench. She is expected to ascend to the bench in January.

Jeremy Davis, a Uniontown attorney who represented Rudnik at the hearing, said in September that the trooper did not have witnesses available to testify, so his request for dismissal was granted.

Rudnik is accused of fleeing when his Dodge Durango hit a mailbox and guide rail on Sept. 14, 2011, on Monarch Road in Dunbar. According to a criminal complaint, a witness told troopers that Rudnik drove away and parked his sport utility vehicle in front of a nearby residence.

The complaint said troopers found Rudnik at his residence, where he acknowledged striking the mailbox and leaving his truck at a friend's home. A breath test indicated Rudnik's blood-alcohol content was 0.166 percent, twice the legal limit for intoxication in Pennsylvania.

At the direction of state Deputy Attorney General L. Todd Goodwin, Trooper Joseph Ross refiled the charges, and the case was held for trial after a Sept. 9 preliminary hearing before Redstone District Judge Mike Defino.

Defino was assigned to the case when Shaner recused himself for “personal reasons,” according to a letter to President Judge John F. Wagner Jr.

Ross and two witnesses who testified at Rudnik's Sept. 9 preliminary hearing, Thomas Brown and James Glunt, both of Dunbar Township, in September declined to comment about their testimony.

Rudnik, who is free on $2,500 unsecured bond, is scheduled to appear on Feb. 24 before President Judge John F. Wagner Jr. for a pretrial conference.

Liz Zemba is a reporter for Trib Total Media. She can be reached at 412-601-2166 or lzemba@tribweb.com.

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