Convicted Allegheny County Councilman McCullough back in court
The years-long saga of embattled, former Allegheny Councilman Charles McCullough continued Wednesday during a hearing in front of Common Pleas Judge David Cashman.
The hearing was on McCullough’s motion to have then-Judge Lester Nauhaus removed from his case because of alleged conversations between the judge and others.
McCullough was convicted in 2015 of five counts of theft and five counts of misapplication of entrusted funds – charges that were filed six years earlier and stemmed from allegations McCullough stole money from the estate of an elderly client.
McCullough was charged later in 2015 with perjury because when he waived his right to a jury trial, he stated he was not threatened or coerced to do so – something he said after the fact was untrue.
Those proceedings have been on hold while McCullough appeals the theft convictions. Deputy District Attorney Michael Streily, before the hearing began, indicated his desire to dismiss the perjury charges if it meant McCullough would take the stand.
Streily, before the morning was up, said he would no longer be willing to do so.
McCullough appealed his conviction to the Superior Court, and the issue was kicked back to the Court of Common Pleas in December when a Superior Court panel ordered the lower court to re-hear the recusal motion and, this time, allow Nauhaus and Jon Pushinsky, McCullough’s former attorney, to testify.
Indeed, Nauhaus and Pushinsky appeared in court, having been subpoenaed by McCullough’s current attorney, Adam Cogan.
McCullough has alleged that one-sided conversations took place between Pushinsky and Nauhaus. McCullough has argued that he waived his right to a jury trial because he feared repercussions from Nauhaus if he chose to have a jury trial instead of a bench trial.
Pushinsky testified that while Nauhaus did seem upset during the phone call and did yell at him, he was not intimidated and thought the judge was “blowing off steam.”
McCullough also alleged that Nauhaus’ conversation with a mutual friend of both his and Pushinsky’s — in which he said McCullough’s attorneys should consider a non-jury trial – amounted to a directive and helped intimidate McCullough into waiving his right to a jury trial.
A third allegation involved Nauhaus discussing his pending verdict decision with his secretary while the trial was still ongoing.
Nauhaus called that “absolute nonsense.”
In the Superior Court’s decision remanding the case back to Common Pleas, the panel of judges wrote that the last allegation “is troubling because it suggests that Judge Nauhaus relied upon influences outside of the record to form an opinion regarding McCullough’s guilt prior to the close of evidence.”
Cashman will not issue a ruling until next week.
Megan Guza is a Tribune-Review staff writer. You can contact Megan at 412-380-8519, [email protected] or via Twitter .