| Milwaukee Journal Sentinel
Iron County District Attorney Matthew Tingstad survived a criminal investigation, suspicions about his residency and an election challenge, but on Wednesday a judge disqualified him from the case that prompted those troubles.
Circuit Judge Ann Knox-Bauer granted a defense request to disqualify Tingstad from the case against Darrell Petrusha over a potential conflict of interest.
“DA Tingstad’s continued prosecution of this case and his exercise of prosecutorial discretion would become suspect and have the appearance of a private vendetta against Petrusha,” she wrote.
In May 2018, Tingstad charged Petrusha, 56, a retired Iron County sheriff’s deputy and former chief of the Hurley Fire Department, over use of a city credit card many years earlier. But Petrusha’s lawyers say it was never really the city’s card — it was issued to another firefighter and merely had the name Hurley Fire Department on it because it was meant to help keep track of travel expenses related to the city’s purchase of a new fire truck.
Petrusha used it for some personal expenses and paid the bills. But when the other firefighter — former Hurley Mayor Joseph Pinardi — filed for bankruptcy, there was a $7,800 balance that was ultimately written off.
Petrusha’s attorney, Steven Lucareli, got banks and the city to acknowledge the card was really Pinardi’s all along, and the city didn’t lose any money. Oneida County sheriff’s detectives recommended Tingstad be charged with two crimes over a bogus subpoena he sent to the bank’s lawyer in Milwaukee.
Petrusha filed a formal complaint with the attorney general suggesting Tingstad — a Michigan resident when he was elected in 2016 — was still living in the Upper Peninsula and was unlawfully holding the office.
But the AG’s office passed, and a special prosecutor concluded Tingstad should not be charged, only referred to the Office of Lawyer Regulation. In the wake of news about all that, another Michigan lawyer launched a late run against Tingstad — and moved to Hurley. Tingstad, a Republican, won reelection in a county that voted heavily for President Donald Trump.
Lucareli had asked that Tingstad be taken off the case, then withdrew himself after he feared Tingstad was turning the case into a vendetta against him, to his client’s detriment.
Petrusha’s new lawyer, Aaron Nelson, made the same request, and on Wednesday, it was granted.
“The court concludes that DA Tingstad’s continued prosecution, including choices to maintain or abandon the prosecution, would be seen as a punishment to Petrusha for maintaining allegations against Tingstad, and thus has the appearance of impropriety,” Knox-Bauer wrote.
She distinguished Petrusha from a defendant who tries to gain advantage in their case by threats or other misconduct that creates an ethical dilemma for the prosecutor.
“Petrusha has not engaged in any misconduct by swearing the verified complaint to the AG’s office about Tingstad’s residency. The residency issue exists whether complained about by Petrusha or any other person, and the investigation of that issue can occur independently of anything that Petrusha asserts,” Knox-Bauer wrote.
Lucareli, a former district attorney, said he’s happy for his former client.
“When a new, objective prosecutor looks at this case, I expect it will be tossed in the circular file where it belongs.”
A status hearing on the case is set for Monday, when Knox-Bauer could appoint a prosecutor from another county to take over the Petrusha case.
Tingstad did not immediately return emails about the disqualification.