Luzerne County Judge Thomas Burke Jr.’s tenure on the bench has focused primarily on civil cases, with a more limited number of criminal trials. The following is a list of some of his more notable cases.
July 1999 – Burke issued an injunction preventing the owner of Sammy’s Hide-a-Way in Nescopeck from operating as an all nude, bring-your-own-bottle club, ruling the operation violated the borough’s anti-nudity ordinance. In a subsequent ruling, Burke upheld the summary citations issued to the club’s owner and 15 exotic dancers who were charged with violating the anti-nudity ordinance.
July 2002 – In a case that drew national attention, Burke issued a temporary injunction blocking Tanya Meyers from having abortion against the will of her boyfriend, John Stachokus, who was the father. The injunction was put in place until a hearing could be held on Stachokus’ petition. Judge Michael T. Conahan later withdrew the injunction.
July 2005 – Burke presided over the arson retrial of John Michaels – a case that attacked interrogation methods used by police in obtaining confessions. Michaels was charged with setting a fire that killed his landlord. The first trial ended with a hung jury. In the second trial he was acquitted after his attorneys launched a blistering attack on police tactics that were used to elicit what Michaels claimed was a false confession.
October 2006 - Burke and Judge Chester Muroski issued the final court ruling that cleared the way for the change in the number of council seats on Wilkes-Barre City Council from seven to five to be implemented. Voters approved the change in 2001, but numerous court challenges had held up its implementation.
June 2007 - Burke denied a request to dismiss a homicide charge against James Strong based on allegations his retrial would constitute double-jeopardy – a provision within the U.S. Constitution that prohibits a person from being tried twice for the same crime. Strong was convicted in 1983 of the shotgun slaying of John Strock. The conviction was later overturned after it was revealed prosecutors had made a secret deal with a co-defendant to testify against Strock.