CLARION - "When I was running for district attorney more than 20 years ago, they said I was too much of a defense attorney to be a prosecutor, now they say I'm too much of a prosecutor to be a defense attorney?" former Clarion County District Attorney Mark T. Aaron said recently in his new and still sparsely furnished law office in Clarion.
"No matter what side' you're on, our justice system is designed so the jury speaks and in turn justice speaks," said Aaron. "Our system of justice has its problems, but you won't find a better system anywhere on the planet."
Aaron said as a prosecutor he needed to ensure the commonwealth proved a defendant's guilt beyond a reasonable doubt.
"As a defense attorney, you're still working to ensure a case is proven, but as a defense attorney, you're working for the defendant, not the state," said Aaron. "The concept of a burden of proof doesn't change."
Aaron has opened a private law office in Clarion and along with Chris Merwin, a New Bethlehem native and licensed attorney in Massachusetts, will offer legal services covering criminal defense, bankruptcies, personal injury, civil litigation, wills, powers of attorney, advanced healthcare directives and property deed work.
Merwin, a nine-year veteran of the Massachusetts legal system, is a 2002 graduate of Redbank Valley High School and 2006 graduate of Clarion University.
Merwin once worked as an intern for Aaron in the district attorney's office.
"He (Aaron) is the reason I went to law school," explained Merwin.
Merwin has applied to take the Pennsylvania Bar exam and anticipates being licensed to practice law in Pennsylvania soon.
Aaron started his career in the Clarion County legal system as an assistant public defender under the guidance of Jack I. Lowe. He was elected as district attorney and served in that office for several terms before an unsuccessful run for county judge in 2019.
As his term as district attorney ended at the end of 2019, Aaron needed seven additional months of county employment to qualify for a pension. He applied for an open position as a deputy sheriff and worked in that job until meeting the service time required for the county pension.
Aaron said it was his intention to return to private practice but he needed to wait for a few months until the cases he was involved in as a prosecutor had worked their way through the county court system.
"I think most of the cases I was involved with have been processed through to the point I wouldn't be involved, but obviously, if those cases are still pending I would not be involved with them," said Aaron.
One of the last major cases Aaron was involved in was the 2018 drug overdose death case of William Stout.
Aaron Johnson and Spencer Rudolph were convicted in August of drug delivery resulting in death and other charges in the fentanyl overdose death of Stout.
Johnson was sentenced to serve a maximum of 72 years in prison and Rudolph a maximum of 27 years in a state prison.
Other defendants from the multi-county case are still awaiting trials or sentencing.
Although Aaron had his sights set on serving as county judge, he said he is comfortable and happy returning to private practice.
Although his new practice is just launching, Aaron said he has had numerous inquiries for his services, including criminal defense cases.
As a defense attorney in Clarion County, Aaron will be facing off against his former first assistant and now county district attorney Drew Welsh and former county chief public defender Eric Spessard, who is now first assistant district attorney.
Aaron acknowledged the first case in which he faces off against Welsh or Spessard could feel a little odd, but only until it's time to get down to business.
"Justice' is the system," said Aaron. "It is an adversarial system; it is also the best was to get to the truth. It's all based on the same body of law. It's set up to ensure every defendant gets all of the rights they are entitled to.
"Will it be odd to be on the other side after all those years as district attorney? Yes, maybe. But we'll cross that bridge when we get to it."
Aaron's new office is located at 434 Wood Street in Clarion. The office telephone number is 814-229-5300.