Working for justice

Stacy Hughes and Bill Fritze discuss the District Attorney’s Office Northeast Bureau and how they are working to improve local neighborhoods.

The dream team: Through the District Attorney’s Office Northeast Bureau, prosecutors Stacy Hughes and Bill Fritze handle crimes committed in the 2nd, 7th, 8th and 15th police districts. The bureau works closely with police officers and district captains. PHOTO: NORTHEAST TIMES

Stacy Hughes and Bill Fritze took different paths to becoming lawyers, but they are on the same page as they focus their attention on the District Attorney’s Office Northeast Bureau.

Hughes, a Johnstown native, came to Philadelphia to attend Temple University. She began working in the office in 2008, became assistant chief of the Northeast Bureau last November and then the chief in August.

“It’s been a positive interaction with the community,” she said.

Fritze grew up on a 200-acre farm in a small Michigan town with two stop lights.

“There are probably more pigs in my hometown than people,” he said.

Fritze earned a degree in criminal justice and political science from Michigan State. He came to Philadelphia for “bright lights, big city.” He worked as a mentor for AmeriCorps and Big Brothers Big Sisters, working at local schools such as George Washington, Northeast, Abraham Lincoln, Little Flower, Austin Meehan and Watson Comly.

In 2006, he joined the DA’s office as a victim advocate. At night, he attended law school, buoyed by seeing prosecutors representing victims. He became an assistant district attorney in 2012 and joined the Northeast Bureau in May of this year. He’s now the assistant chief, and described his experience as fulfilling.

“It gives us a good opportunity to advocate for victims,” he said.

Hughes has long eyed working as a prosecutor, to be a voice for people in the courtroom.

“I’ve wanted to be a DA my whole life,” she said. “Since sixth grade, I told my parents I wanted to be a prosecutor.”

The DA’s office went to geographical prosecution in 2010. The first chief of the Northeast Bureau was Mark Gilson, who remains with the office.

Jacqueline Coelho served as chief for four years until leaving in August.

Hughes, who lives in Fairmount, works with eight assistant district attorneys, many of whom work nights and weekends to meet with victims and witnesses. She still tries cases.

“We have a variety of experience. Everyone comes into the job to help the community. The job has a lot of rewarding experiences,” she said. “We see everything. We get to learn the community, the streets, who the police officers and detectives are. We build relationships. It’s a good system.”

In the community, the prosecutors work with Police District Advisory Councils and have taken part in bicycle rides for safety, community days, National Night Out and Trunk or Treat.

“Anytime we’re invited, we make our best effort to attend,” Hughes said.

Fritze, a Bella Vista resident, said Northeast folks have been accommodating.

“People try to be involved in their community and are always willing to help,” he said. “That is what geographical prosecution does. It makes it more of a neighborhood district attorney’s office. The job of prosecutor has a lot of rewards. One of those rewards is helping the community. It’s an honor to be a DA representing the community, in this case the Northeast.”

The Northeast Bureau handles crimes committed in the 2nd, 7th, 8th and 15th police districts, doing everything necessary to prepare for trial.

The bureau works closely with police officers and district captains.

“They’re a great resource to help understand what happened in a case and locate witnesses,” Hughes said.

Fritze said the bureau works with Northeast Victim Service and its advocate, Megan Torpey.

“That’s another way to reach out if there is a problem contacting a victim,” he said. “They can explain the process. It’s nice to have them in neighborhoods.”

Crimes that the prosecutors do not handle are murders, sexual assault and domestic violence. Crimes that are handled by the bureau include gunpoint robberies, non-fatal shootings and violent aggravated assaults.

“We do our best to communicate with victims and witnesses ahead of time,” Hughes said. “Our goal is to keep the same DA throughout the process.”

Crime cases start with preliminary hearings in Municipal Court.

If the case goes to trial, it is heard by a Common Pleas Court judge.

All Northeast cases are heard on the 10th floor of the Criminal Justice Center. The four judges assigned to those cases are Anne Marie Coyle, Edward Wright, Carolyn Nichols and Vincent Johnson.

“It’s a benefit. There’s consistency,” Hughes said.

No matter the case, the bureau prosecutors want to see justice.

“There’s a great responsibility that comes with this job,” Hughes said. “It’s important to always do the right thing.” ••

Tom Waring can be reached at 215–354–3034 or