Attorney Chris Slusser says his love for the community of Hazleton encouraged him to work in the public sector.Times Leader Staff Photo/Don Carey
The Slusser family name has been prominent in the Hazleton area for decades, most often associated with trucking, excavation and sanitation businesses.
Earl and Tom Slusser founded Slusser Brothers Excavation and Trucking back in 1973. Their brother, the late Bruce Slusser opened the Sugarloaf Landfill in the 1970s and started Slusser Sanitation. Bruce Jr. opened the Slusser & Sons refuse removal business in 1992.
Now, another Slusser has been working diligently to make his own mark in the Hazleton area.
Over the past five years, Chris Slusser has been appointed to solicitorships for several southern Luzerne County government entities, including the two largest – the City of Hazleton and the Hazleton Area School District.
He’s also solicitor for Black Creek Township, the boroughs of Conyngham and West Hazleton, and the Luzerne County Planning and Zoning commissions and Agricultural Preservation Board.
So, is he getting all this work because he’s good at what he does or because he’s a Slusser?
“I think I’ve been lucky in my business because people do know the Slusser name. But nobody has been hiring me to be a lawyer because my last name is Slusser,” the 34-year-old said in a recent interview at his North Church Street law office.
Slusser said it’s his love for his community, his preference for prosecutorial over legal defense work, and the satisfaction he gets “solving problems for people” that motivate him to work in the public sector with school, county and municipal boards.
It’s also what drives him in his 5-year-old private practice – The Law Offices of Christopher B. Slusser, which specializes in personal injury claims.
Born and raised in West Hazleton and a 1989 graduate of West Hazleton High School, Slusser attended Penn State Hazleton Campus for two years before graduating from the University Park campus with a business management degree in 1993. That same year, he married the former Amy St. Pierre.
His plans to work for his father after graduation were stymied, given that Bruce sold the sanitation business in 1992. His mother, Dolly, suggested he consider a career in law, given his penchant for arguing with her.
While attending the Widener University School of Law in Harrisburg, Slusser worked for the director of the Public Protection Division of the state Attorney General’s Office. Most of that work was with the Bureau of Consumer Protection, he said.
“I think during that period is when I kind of developed this desire to practice that type of law. … I almost took a position with them full time after graduation, but decided I wanted to come back. I’m kind of a homing pigeon. … A lot of others with whom I graduated thought I was crazy. They wanted to know why I wanted to go back to a small town when they were moving on to Philadelphia and New York. … I have a large family and we’re very close and this is where I wanted to be,” Slusser said.
After returning home, Slusser began practicing general law with Mylotte, David and Fitzpatrick. He decided domestic and criminal defense work wasn’t his cup of tea and took a position with Conrad Falvello’s law firm to practice civil litigation.
It was with those two firms that he gained experience in municipal law, occasionally filling in for attorneys who had solicitorships. Slusser was eventually appointed assistant solicitor for Hazleton while working with Falvello, and took over as solicitor after Falvello resigned last year. He acquired his solicitorship with Black Creek Township in a similar manner in 2002.
Slusser was appointed solicitor for the county Planning and Zoning commissions, the Agricultural Preservation Board and school district in 2002. He was appointed solicitor for West Hazleton and Conyngham boroughs early this year. He did not recall if any of those positions were advertised.
Slusser charges $90 to $100 per hour for his municipal work, and his legal bills from the municipalities so far this year total $59,597. The county position is full time and pays an annual salary of $19,627. From the school district, he receives a $12,100 annual retainer and was paid $45,420 for his legal work last school year.
Slusser says the government work has been “extremely interesting” and provides some challenges.
Some of the most interesting things Slusser said he’s worked on include Hazleton’s Illegal Immigration Relief Act and the English Only ordinances.
“I don’t think any of us in the administration expected this to receive the attention it has. … It certainly sparked a debate that Washington won’t overlook.”
Slusser said he’s “excited to be to be a part of ” helping Conyngham officials deal with the possibility of regionalizing police enforcement with Sugarloaf Township. He’s also proud that his hometown of West Hazleton is recovering financially after nearing bankruptcy almost five years ago.
One of his least-favorite challenges is “dealing with some of the political conflicts that present themselves. Sometimes, political in-fights do occur.”
That’s especially been true with the Hazleton Area School Board, which has had a reputation for political tiffs between members, and numerous incidents of political snipes and name-calling between board members.
Sometimes, Slusser said, he “absolutely” feels like a referee.
“It’s difficult to understand the whole dynamic. … What I tell my clients is, I’m here as legal counsel, but I am not the 10th board member. I am not the sixth council person,” Slusser said.
“I’m there to provide appropriate recommendations, whether they like it or not. I’m there to protect them and give them guidance and that’s my job.”
An admitted workaholic, Slusser says he forced himself to stop working weekends so he could spend them with his wife and three children. He often keeps late hours during the week, and is grateful his wife is “very understanding.”
Slusser says he loves the challenges and rewards of a demanding municipal law schedule, even though most of the board meetings he must attend are in the evenings.
He also said the time-to-pay ratio for municipal work is far greater than the ratio for personal injury work. He says it’s a specialized field in which not many attorneys are interested for that reason.
And given the fact that his personal injury practice is growing to the point that he’s hired a second attorney almost three years ago and is now hiring a third, will he remain working in the public sector very long?
“I’m not ready to give up the municipal work, and I don’t foresee myself getting to that point.
“I plan to keep on doing what I’m doing for as long as I can.”