- Associated Press - Friday, September 12, 2014

PITTSBURGH (AP) - A retired district judge has been charged with fixing a drunken driving case for the nephew of a prosecutor who is now a common pleas judge, and then lying to a state grand jury.

The attorney general’s office announced the charges against Dwight Shaner on Thursday. The 71-year-old jurist retired Dec. 31, though he’s applied for senior status, which would enable him to continue hearing cases as a substitute judge. Shaner, who doesn’t have a listed phone, surrendered Friday and has a Sept. 22 preliminary hearing scheduled.

Shaner was the district judge in Dunbar Township, Fayette County, when the nephew of Linda Cordaro was charged with drunken driving and leaving the scene after hitting a mailbox and guard rail on a rural road on Sept. 14, 2011. At the time, Cordaro was an assistant district attorney assigned to prosecute cases in Shaner’s office. She has since been elected a Fayette County judge.

State Trooper Joseph Ross told a state grand jury that Cordaro recused herself moments before her nephew’s preliminary hearing before Shaner, but not before asking Ross whether he had any witnesses. Witnesses typically are not required at preliminary hearings on such charges, so Ross said that was a “red flag” and he asked Shaner to continue the case.

Instead, Shaner dismissed the charges.

Shaner’s secretary told the grand jury that was the first time in 17 years that she recalled Shaner not granting the police a continuance from an initial hearing date.

Ross told the grand jury that Shaner explained the dismissal by saying, “Hey trooper, I hope you understand. … I’m catching some heat from Linda because that is her nephew.”

When Ross tried to refile the charges, District Attorney Jack Heneks refused to approve the complaint, the grand jury found.

Heneks and Cordaro have not been charged with crimes. Neither immediately returned messages left Friday by The Associated Press.

The case against the nephew, Robert Rudnik, 31, of Connellsville, lay dormant until a private citizen in March contacted the attorney general’s office about the alleged case-fixing.

Advised of the citizen’s claims, Heneks referred the DUI case to the attorney general, who filed charges against Rudnik in July.

Rudnik has since pleaded guilty and was sentenced to six months intermediate punishment, an intensive probation program that included two months on house arrest. He also lost his license for a year and had to pay for the property damage.

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