- The longtime district attorneys in Erie and Crawford counties left office early
- Erie County’s Jack Daneri retired and Crawford County’s Francis Schultz was elected judge
- Their successors as DA are both women, a first for both counties
Elizabeth Hirz and Paula DiGiacomo have worked with each other for years as the top assistant district attorneys for Erie and Crawford counties, respectively.
On Monday, the professional relationship got elevated to a new and historic level.
Hirz and DiGiacomo were sworn in as the first women to hold the positions of district attorney in their respective counties.
Hirz, 49, is now Erie County’s district attorney following Jack Daneri’s retirement at the end of 2021.
DiGiacomo, 53, is the new district attorney in Crawford County following the election of Francis Schultz as a Court of Common Pleas judge.
Hirz and DiGiacomo, both longtime first assistant district attorneys, are filling out the remaining two-year terms of Daneri and Schultz.
Under state law, a county’s first assistant district attorney assumes the top job upon the resignation of a district attorney.
Leadership change:As Daneri resigns as DA, his successor will be the first woman in that role in Erie County
DiGiacomo said it’s exciting to be the first female district attorney in Crawford County, and equally exciting that Hirz, someone she has worked with in the past, is making similar history in Erie County.
Hirz said she is glad that she and DiGiacomo will be able to continue to work together, as district attorneys.
“I am looking forward to working with her as the new district attorney,” Hirz said.
DiGiacomo aims for smooth transition
DiGiacomo, a graduate of Fordham University and the Duquesne University School of Law, was hired as an assistant district attorney in Crawford County in May 1994 under then-District Attorney John Dawson. She said she was the county’s second female prosecutor when she was hired.
DiGiacomo became first assistant district attorney in 1996 and continued to serve the office under district attorneys Mark Waitlevertch and Schultz, who first assumed the post in 2000.
She said she believes it will be a smooth transition in replacing Schultz, as she has been heavily involved in running the office. Working for Schultz was easy, DiGiacomo said, because he gave her a lot of discretion in handling the cases the way both believed they should be handled.
“I would say we have a very similar outlook in handling cases. We focus on doing the right thing, no matter what the outcome,” she said. “The prosecutor’s job is to seek justice not only for victims in society, but for those charged with a crime. They also need to be treated fairly, and I think we always did a good job making sure everyone was treated fairly.”
Schultz, who was sworn in as Crawford County judge on Dec. 30 and began work on Monday, said he feels very comfortable leaving the office in DiGiacomo’s hands.
Running for another office:Crawford County DA Francis Schultz is a candidate for Common Pleas Court judge
“She was extremely dedicated to the job,” Schultz said of his time working with DiGiacomo. “She took it upon herself to handle most of the child sexual assault and abuse cases in the county. I was always thankful she was willing to handle those tough cases.”
DiGiacomo, who is married and has two children, said she plans on continuing to make sure child abuse and sexual abuse cases are treated just as importantly as homicides and other major criminal cases. She said she also plans to make sure the staff is well-trained and able to handle all cases.
DiGiacomo heads an office that includes five assistant district attorneys. Craig Howe, who has worked in the office since 2005, will serve as first assistant district attorney under DiGiacomo.
“My goal is to keep the office running the way it has been for years,” she said. “I think it has been running very well, and I hope to continue to make sure that the office runs as well as it has been in the past.”
Hirz praises staff
In Erie County, Hirz started her career at the Erie County Courthouse as a law clerk for Erie County Judge Shad Connelly, who retired in 2015 after 30 years on the bench. Then-Erie County District Attorney Brad Foulk hired Hirz and an assistant district attorney in 2002. After Foulk died in 2009, Hirz stayed on as a top prosecutor under Daneri, Foulk’s successor as district attorney.
Hirz, a native of Falconer, New York, in Chautauqua County, lives in Fairview Township with her husband and daughter.
Hirz graduated from Grove City College and received her law degree from Ohio Northern University Pettit College of Law in Ada, east of Lima. She was admitted to the New York state bar in 1988 and the Pennsylvania bar in 1999.
At the Erie County District Attorney’s Office, Hirz oversees an office of more than a dozen assistant district attorneys, nine county detectives and a large support staff of legal secretaries and other support personnel.
Hirz praised her staff on Monday after she took the oath of office in the courtroom of Erie County Judge Erin Connelly Marucci, who swore Hirz in.
“I am very thankful for all of you,” Hirz said. “I am thankful for your support and encouragement, first of all. More importantly, I am thankful for your hard work, your commitment to our office and also your commitment to each other. This office means a lot to me.”
Hirz also thanked Daneri, who attended the ceremony, for his leadership and trust and “for everything he has done for us.” In announcing his resignation in December, Daneri, 62, said of Hirz, “there is just no one else in this county who could come into this seat and do a better job.”
DA reflects: Daneri: Trials over time — a prosecutor’s parting thoughts
Hirz also received support from the bench on Monday. Judge Connelly Marucci, a daughter of Hirz’s mentor Judge Shad Connelly, served with Hirz as a prosecutor in the District Attorney’s Office for 16 years until Connelly Marucci was elected a judge in 2019. Hirz and Connelly Marucci are also friends.
“It’s official,” Connelly Marucci told Hirz after administering the oath of office. “District attorney — the first female district attorney. I want to congratulate you.
“Obviously, this is an honor and a privilege for me to be able to swear you in, since you convinced me to go to law school in the first place back in 1999-ish. This is just one of the greatest honors I think I will ever have in my career.”
Contact Tim Hahn at firstname.lastname@example.org. Follow him on Twitter @ETNhahn.
Contact Ed Palattella at email@example.com. Follow him on Twitter @ETNpalattella.