Board OKs Fusco taking over juvenile witness program

BROOKVILLE — Friday, the Jefferson County Salary Board unanimously approved Michelle Fusco, the current adult victim witness coordinator, to take over as coordinator of the juvenile victim witness program.
The program’s current coordinator, Dan Leonard, is retiring.

District Attorney Jeff Burkett made the motion, which was seconded by Jeff Pisarcik, county commissioner, to add the juvenile position to Fusco’s job description.

Fusco became the county’s adult victim/witness coordinator position after the former coordinator, Pat Berger, began coordinating the county’s Western PA CARES for Kids program in the beginning of the year.
Burkett said Fusco’s position as adult coordinator is paid through the Rights And Services Act, and she works out of the district attorney’s office. Also, the Victims of Juvenile Offenders (VOJO) grant funds pay for the juvenile victim/witness coordinator position that had been held by Leonard.

Fusco said her new position as the juvenile victim/witness coordinator is similar to what she is currently doing as the adult coordinator. She had a similar dual position as the victim/witness coordinator in Elk and Cameron counties.

“Michelle has been with us since January, and she is extremely professional,” Burkett said. “She is a machine, work-wise, and is extremely organized.”

Burkett said combining the two coordinator positions together will save the county $50,000 per year.

The county is currently receiving a surplus, because the victim/witness coordinator position is not only funded by grants, but by the victim/witness fee, which is assessed by President Judge John H. Foradora as part of court costs for each person who is sentenced.

“This program has never cost Jefferson County any money,” Burkett said, adding that the victim/witness fee — which has brought in a substantial amount of money since 2003 — goes toward helping crime victims.

Fusco said the only difference between the juvenile court system and Common Pleas Court is the speed at which cases are processed.

Burkett said the stakes are not as high in the juvenile system, because the juvenile system aims toward rehabilitation. The adult system has more of a punishment component, and therefore, it’s harder to resolve cases, he said.

“We have a court that holds juvenile offenders accountable, and I think it’s working,” Burkett said. “Although the juvenile court system is geared toward treatment and rehabilitation, sometimes I think the most powerful rehabilitation is accountability. That’s an old-school thought, but I think it’s right.”

As part of her job, Fusco calculates restitution if there’s a monetary component to the crime, whether it’s theft or damage to personal property, Burkett said.

Burkett said often, juvenile crimes are more personal than adult crimes.
In addition to her current salary, Fusco will receive an additional $7,000 from the VOJO grant, and she will work 37.5 hours per week.