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A former Bucks County prosecutor is running to unseat her old boss as district attorney

Antonetta Stancu said improving mental-health considerations in the criminal justice system is her top priority. But she says change doesn’t mean upheaval.

Antonetta Stancu believes her 16 years of experience as a criminal prosecutor, half of that in Bucks County, give her a clear understanding of how the office can be improved.
Antonetta Stancu believes her 16 years of experience as a criminal prosecutor, half of that in Bucks County, give her a clear understanding of how the office can be improved.Read moreWilliam Thomas Cain/CAIN IMAGES

After nearly two decades as a prosecutor, Antonetta Stancu is seeking Bucks County’s top law enforcement job.

She’s aiming to unseat her former boss, Matt Weintraub, and hoping to take the helm as district attorney. Stancu, 43, wants to capitalize on her experience and move beyond it to reform the county’s criminal justice system to meet changing times.

But she says change doesn’t mean upheaval.

“I truly don’t believe that being a supporter of law enforcement means you can’t be a proponent of equal justice or make sure inequities in the system are resolved,” Stancu, 43, said in an interview. “It would be my resolve as a DA to bridge that gap, to make sure that communities and people in law enforcement are on the same side, and that side is to see safety in the community.”

Stancu, a first-generation American born to Romanian immigrants, worked as a local prosecutor in New York City before landing a job as federal prosecutor in Texas. In 2012, she returned to work as an assistant district attorney in her native Bucks County, where she handled everything from drug busts to the case of the “Bucks County bomber,” a Quakertown resident who terrorized the northern part of the county for months by setting off homemade explosives in the middle of the night.

The defendant, David Surman, pleaded guilty to possession and manufacturing of a weapon of mass destruction and related charges. He was also convicted in an unrelated child pornography case after detectives found porn on his computer while investigating the bombs.

Along the way, she worked as a special prosecutor in two high-profile trials in neighboring Montgomery County, against former county commissioner James R. Matthews and former State Attorney General Kathleen Kane. Matthews pleaded guilty to lying to a grand jury investigating his ties to an insurance company that did business with Montgomery County. Kane was convicted of perjury and leaking grand jury information to hurt a rival and served an eight-month prison sentence.

Last year, Stancu opened her own firm. And defense work, she said, has given her an entirely new perspective on criminal justice from sitting, as she put it, “at both courtroom tables.”

That experience inspired a key focus of her platform: improving the treatment of defendants with mental illness. Unlike surrounding counties, Bucks County only recently developed a mental-health court that diverts low-level offenders to treatment rather than prison.

The delay in modernizing the criminal justice system’s approach to those issues, Stancu says, has had an obvious effect on a pervasive problem — the opioid crisis.

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“We’ve spent millions of dollars in the last four or five years trying to attack the opioid epidemic, and we’re failing,” she said. “Mental health and drug dependency go hand-in-hand often, and without treating the underlying issues, we’ll never get a handle on our overdose rates.”

If elected, Stancu said she will champion mental-health court programs, and work to expand them.

In that mission, she has found early, and vocal, supporters in the county’s two Democratic commissioners, Diane Ellis-Marseglia and Bob Harvie.

Ellis-Marseglia, a former social worker, said she was drawn to Stancu’s priority of improving mental health considerations in the criminal justice system.

“We’ve been inappropriate all this time, and it’s progressive in that we’re finally doing the right thing,” Ellis-Marseglia said. “I think the ideas that she has, specifically focused on mental health and drug and alcohol issues, show she’ll have a humane and effective response to them.”

Another major component of in Stancu’s campaign — and that of her ticket-mate, Mark Lomax, who is running for sheriff — is the idea of “funding the police,” a deliberate counterpoint to Republican efforts to brand Democrats as hostile to law enforcement.

» READ MORE: ‘We must fund the police’: Bucks Democrats are trying to head off GOP attacks in local elections

While some Democrats in Philadelphia and beyond have called for cuts in spending on police, John Cordisco, chair of the Bucks County Democrats, said Stancu’s approach is different.

“Antonetta’s messaging is keeping Bucks County safe, is rooted in being a very strong prosecutor, in putting people in jail, but also giving resources to police to do the training and creating programs that turn those arrests into convictions,” he said.

“Law-and-order is not a Republican issue,” Cordisco added. “Our opponents try to make it an issue, and have made some false statements about defunding the police. People see through that.”

Stancu has said politics will have no role in the office beyond Election Day. She criticized how Weintraub handled the case of Gregg Shore, the former first assistant district attorney who was demoted after he was caught working as a food-delivery driver on county time. Shore eventually resigned, but Stancu said his friendship with Weintraub gave him an undue advantage.

“If you start giving people second chances, if you start playing games with politics, you lose people’s trust,” she said. “And when you lose people’s trust in a system, you can see what a disaster that can be for people in the community.”

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Weintraub said the idea that he gave Shore, or anyone else, special treatment based on politics is “absurd, vindictive, and unequivocally wrong,” and called Stancu’s criticism “political grandstanding.”

“I will not compromise my principles for anything or anyone,” Weintraub said. “That decision was made after careful consultation with my leadership team, but it was mine and I don’t regret it.”

Still, Stancu said that, if given the chance, she will work on implementing reforms to streamline an office she values and respects.

“I was a tough prosecutor, and that’s because I fought day in and day out to ensure safety in this county,” she said. “We have great police officers in Bucks County, we’re lucky. And we’re lucky in not only that they’re great, but that they want to improve to meet needs of community, to be and do better.”