Monday Profile: New Northumberland County DA has made history before
SUNBURY - Ann Targonski is proud to be the first female district attorney in Northumberland County, but it's not the first time she made history at the courthouse.
While serving as a county public defender in the mid-1980s, Targonski and then-assistant district attorney Joanne Ditman became the first two female attorneys to oppose each other at trial in a Northumberland County courtroom.
More than simply making history, though, Targonski has paid her dues through some 30 years in criminal law and the courtroom to become the county's the top law enforcement official.
"It's exciting to be the first woman DA in the county," Targonski, 55, of Shamokin, said last week. "I first thought about becoming an attorney in high school because it seemed like a glamorous career."
Glamour may be far from Targonski's mind in the coming months. Her role as DA will include leading the prosecution of several high-profile cases, including those against accused "Craigslist killers" Elytte and Miranda Barbour. Still, she said she looks forward to the challenges she inherited when sworn into office July 3.
New Jersey native
Targonski is a native of Pennsville, N.J., where she graduated from Pennsville Memorial High School in 1977. In 1981, she earned a degree in pre-law from Marywood College, Scranton. She obtained her law degree from Dickinson School of Law in 1984.
She started her career as an attorney with the law firm of Jack C. Younkin in Shamokin, where she worked until 1990 when she opened her own law practice on Lincoln Street in Shamokin. She later became law partners with Frank E. Garrigan on East Independence Street in the city, but she's had to relinquish her practice since becoming the full-time DA.
Targonski began working for the county as a public defender from 1985 to 1987. She then became the county's first hearing officer for support and custody cases before joining the DA's office.
Good role models
Targonski, the only attorney in her family, said she's learned a lot in her professional career from her two predecessors, Robert B. Sacavage and Tony Rosini. Sacavage went on to serve as county president judge before retiring earlier this year and becoming a senior judge. Rosini was sworn in July 3 as the third judge in Northumberland County following a distinguished career as district attorney from 1996 to 2014.
"I really appreciated Bob (Sacavage) choosing me to become part of his staff," Targonski said, noting that staff included "well-respected" attorneys who served as good role models.
"I also was very flattered that Tony (Rosini) selected me as his first deputy in 1996, which made me eager to take on more responsibilities in my role as a prosecutor. Tony's work ethic was an inspiration to all of us. He always was concerned about making sure justice was done."
Targonski said she plans to make some changes to the office in terms of interaction with the public, while expanding on improvements made by Sacavage and Rosini.
Rosini is very pleased his longtime assistant is serving as DA.
"Ann is a very hard worker and very knowledgeable," Rosini said.
He said she's done "an excellent job" prosecuting many difficult cases over the years, especially sexual assault and child abuse offenses. She has completed national training in those specialized areas, he noted.
Northumberland County President Judge William H. Wiest said he's worked well with Targonski for the past 17 years.
"I'm very happy to have Ann aboard as DA," he said. "I'm looking forward to continuing our good working relationship."
County court administrator Brandy Yasenchak believes Targonski brings finesse and administrative knowledge to the table that will complement the office of district attorney.
"I'm looking forward to continuing to work with such an accomplished female attorney, which is a rarity in the Northumberland County political realm," Yasenchak said.
Targonski, a Democrat like Rosini and Sacavage, is "seriously" considering running for a four-year term as DA in next year's election. She is currently serving Rosini's unexpired term, which ends Dec. 31, 2015.
Two new members of Targonski's staff are attorneys Tony Matulewicz and Julia Skinner, who both started July 20. Other full-time ADAs are William Cole, Michael Toomey and Michael Seward. Trisha Cotner is the office manager for Targonski, and Nicole Walter and Amy Wolf are secretaries.
Big cases ahead
The new DA will serve as the lead prosecutor against the Barbours, who are accused of murdering 42-year-old Troy LaFerrara, of Port Trevorton, in Sunbury Nov. 11, and the case against Robert C. Thomas Sr., 67, of Turbot Township, who was charged in May with shooting to death his wife, Patricia Ann Thomas, 64, at their home in April 2012.
Targonski also is leading the prosecution team against Naheem Reams, of Shamokin, who was 17 when police said he used his car to try to run over a police officer before being shot by that officer; and Erick R. Trometter, 22, of Sunbury, who was charged with assaulting his grandmother July 8 and was shot by police during a confrontation.
"These will be very challenging cases for me, but I feel up to the challenge," Targonski said.
Since joining the district attorney's staff in 1992, Targonski has handled many different types of criminal cases - murders, rapes, assaults, robberies, thefts and forgeries. But her specialty has been prosecuting sexual assault and child abuse cases.
She recalled two specific cases that have had a lasting impact on her career. One was the sexual abuse case of an 8-year-old Shamokin girl in 2001, and the other the death of a 1-year-old Sunbury girl from hyperthermia on Oct. 16, 2010, which was blamed on negligence on the part of her parents and grandmother.
The DA said she still plans to handle sexual assault and child abuse cases in addition to her other duties.
"There have been many victims over the years who convinced me that prosecution is the side of the law where I want and need to be," Targonski said.