Tuesday, November 22, 2016

Montco Employees Help Veterans with 'Stars & Strikes For Vets'

With kind hearts and in the spirit of giving, a group of Montgomery County Court employees has organized a fundraiser to assist veterans - a way, they say, to “give back to those who gave so much.”

Dubbed “Stars and Strikes For Vets,” the event, open to court clerks, reporters and other courthouse employees, will be held Dec. 2 at Facenda Whitaker Lanes in East Norriton from 5 p.m. to 7 p.m. Donations of $30 will include unlimited bowling and pizza. The deadline to register is Friday, so get out your bowling shoes for a great cause.

Organizers said the proceeds of the fundraiser will be donated to “Vets for Vets,” a nonprofit organization that assists returning local veterans during their readjustment from military to civilian life, including helping vets find transitional housing.

Contact court clerk Ali Hasapes at AHasapes@montcopa.org for more information, to register or to make a donation.

Initially, organizers thought a bowling party would be a great way for court clerks and court stenographers to bond with one another. But a greater endeavor soon took root.

“One day we were sitting down and thought that it would be a nice idea to bowl for a purpose. We tossed some ideas around and we realized that the vets would be a great choice for our fundraiser,” explained Lisa Neal, a court stenographer and the daughter of an Army veteran and the sister of a Navy veteran.

Neal also works in the courtroom of President Judge William J. Furber Jr., who presides over the county’s Veteran’s Court.

Hasapes, granddaughter of an Army vet, said the idea “took off nicely” and gained lots of support. To date, about 35 county employees have signed up to bowl. Others have simply donated money to the cause.

Ali Hasapes (left) and Lisa Neal (right)/Photo by Carl Hessler Jr.
“Thanks to everyone who has been so supportive of it,” said Hasapes, court clerk for Judge Thomas C. Branca. “We are competing against the holidays so to everyone who has already signed up or given donations, I want to thank you for the support.”

The organizers have also set up collection boxes at two locations in the courthouse for people to donate personal care items, such as shampoo, body wash, shaving cream and toothpaste, which will be presented to veterans in gift baskets.

“I think this is just a way to show them that people care,” said Neal. “Everybody at some point in their life needs a little bit of help, no matter who they are. It shows people that society does have a heart.

“We live in such a fast-paced world that just to take the time out to say, ‘Thank you,’ it means a lot to anybody, especially men and women who have (served their country) and seen the things they’ve seen or lived through the things they’ve lived through,” Neal added.

Hasapes said the donation to “Vets for Vets” is even more poignant because it’s being made in memory of Eric J. D’Ercole, a 34-year-old popular court clerk who passed away unexpectedly on April 10 at his Phoenixville residence. D’Ercole was a graduate of St. Pius X High School and was a retired Army veteran, having served in Bravo Company 1-111th IN.

Other court employees who helped organize the event include, Monica Pokorny, Rukshanna McLauren, Anita Huber and Megan McCartin.

“It makes me feel good to help others,” echoed Neal and Hasapes.

I’m sure the veterans are appreciative of the support and gratitude. The small gathering of compassionate people will make a big impression on those you help.

I commend Neal and Hasapes for spearheading the event. You are a great example of county employees going the extra mile to help others. Your kindness and generosity should serve as an inspiration to others, especially as the holiday season approaches.

Now go out there and bowl some STRIKES!

Compliments to Montco Offices Partnering to Promote Veterans Discount ID Program

Compliments to Montgomery County Sheriff and U.S. Army Lt. Col. Sean P. Kilkenny and county Recorder of Deeds Jeanne Sorg for partnering to promote the innovative Veterans Photo Discount Card program that allows veterans to get discounts at approximately 500 local businesses.

To draw attention to the program, Kilkenny recently recorded his military discharge with the Recorder of Deeds Office and received his free veterans ID merchant discount card.

“It's great to have Sheriff Kilkenny partner with us to help spread the word about how important it is for veterans to record their discharge paperwork, so that they and their families get the benefits they have earned," said Sorg.

Montco Sheriff Sean Kilkenny/ Photo Courtesy of Sheriff's Office
The special ID cards enable veterans to receive discounts at approximately 500 Montgomery County businesses including financial service providers, food retailers, healthcare service providers, car dealerships, real estate agents, property management services and more.  Local businesses also receive the benefit of free program advertising, and building stronger relationships with local vets.

Veterans can also receive military funeral and other death benefits by recording their discharge.  So far, 8,000 of the estimated 50,000 vets in the county are registered for the discount card program, which began in 2012.

“Words of appreciation for those whom have served our country are always nice,” said Kilkenny.  “But, showing gratitude with action can be much more valuable for the vet and the business owner.”

Veterans who would like to apply for a free discount ID card can stop by the Recorder of Deeds office at One Montgomery Plaza, 3rd floor, Swede and Airy Streets, Norristown.  Applicants only need to bring their DD2-14 discharge papers and a photo ID.  Registration is free and takes approximately 15 minutes.
Montco Officials Jeanne Sorg & Sean Kilkenny/ Submitted Photo

“I'm happy to be able to provide Veterans Discount ID cards, which are good at hundreds of businesses around Montgomery County,” said Sorg.  “These cards are available thanks to donors who wish to serve our veterans.”

I'm sure that veterans throughout the county appreciate the program.

Check out the Recorder of Deeds website for more information about the program. 

Tuesday, November 15, 2016

President Obama on Josh Shapiro: 'Love that guy!'

Current Montgomery County Commissioner and Pennsylvania Attorney General-elect Josh Shapiro was in the national spotlight Monday evening as he participated in a conference call with Democratic National Committee (DNC) members and stakeholders, to discuss the election and what’s next for the party. Shapiro was selected to introduce President Barack Obama to the national audience of Democrats.

It was a one-way call and members of the media were invited to listen in, although we did not have the opportunity to ask questions.

The president called in as Donna Brazile, interim chair of the DNC, was addressing the party faithful, applauding Obama’s “extraordinary leadership.”

“Mr. President, I was trying to tell the world how much we love you and how much you’ve done for all of us and I have with me Josh Shapiro, who just won a fantastic race in Pennsylvania and I want to turn it over to Josh to give you a proper introduction,” Brazile said.

At the mention of Shapiro’s name, Obama uttered warmly, “Love that guy!”

Josh Shapiro/Photo by Carl Hessler Jr.
Shapiro, 43, of Abington, got right to it, quoting Obama’s second inaugural address of Jan. 21, 2013.

“In the president’s second inaugural address he said, “We must act, knowing that our work will be imperfect. We must act, knowing that today’s victories will be only partial and that it will be up to those who stand here in four years, in 40 years and 400 years hence to advance the timeless spirit once conferred to us in a spare Philadelphia hall.’”

Speaking just blocks from that hall, Shapiro said he wanted to “offer a little bit of solace.”

“Secretary (Hillary) Clinton won the popular vote. But you should also know that even in this battleground state, where we lost the big race, here in Pennsylvania, folks voted for an attorney general who will protect people’s rights, defend working people against a rip-off economy and secure the gains we’ve made under President Obama. And that message won more votes than any other on the ballot,” Shapiro said as Obama listened in. “In other words, this progressive voice in a competitive race in what ended up being a red state, still won.”

In Nov. 8 balloting, Shapiro had a strong showing, statewide. He received more votes than Clinton and Republican President-elect Donald J. Trump, according to unofficial results.
Shapiro told party faithful they have a voice and that it makes a difference.

“It will be heard and I encourage you to use it and to run for office and not to let our future be shaped by others, that we all must do our part,” Shapiro said. “I am keenly aware of the anxiety that many Americans feel right now and I’m determined to be a champion for Pennsylvanians. As the incoming chief law enforcement officer here in the commonwealth, I will do my part to protect people’s rights, stand up for the values that make our country strong and bring fairness to our justice system.

“But now it’s up to you to do the same for your constituents…If we hear the president’s words and each do our part to strengthen our union in our own ways and in our own communities at a grassroots level, our reach, our power and our effect will be endless,” Shapiro added.

“And so perhaps the lesson that we must draw from Tuesday is that we can’t rely on others to do this work for us. We must be the change and do our part. Scripture teaches us that no one is required to complete the task but neither are we free to refrain from it,” Shapiro added.

“This president has laid the groundwork, he has accomplished so much and his vision continues to be a North Star for many of us. I know I will be guided by it and generations of public servants will be too. We understood when the president came on the scene and we need to remember now that we are required for change to happen,” Shapiro continued.

“We knew it would take us, our work, our efforts, our voices – it wouldn’t be just done by elected leaders, it would fall to each of us. And the leader of that effort, who has shown us time and time again, the strength of the American people, of people he will always bet on and never bet against, is our President Barack Obama. And it is my huge honor to introduce him at this time to this important group at this momentous moment to say a few words to all of us. Mr. President, the line is yours. Thank you for this honor,” Shapiro concluded.

Obama replied, “Josh, thank you for the amazing introduction.”

One can assume that was an extremely proud moment for Shapiro, one I’m sure he will never forget.
Obama went on to thank his supporters, praised Clinton’s historic nomination and candidacy for taking a step toward shattering the so-called “glass ceiling” and urged the party faithful not to lose faith.

“That doesn’t mean we don’t hurt for what was an unexpected loss,” Obama said. “I was telling my team you’re allowed to mope for a week and a half, maybe two if you really need it, but after that we gotta brush ourselves off and get back to work. We gotta come together and focus on a way ahead…It means that we’re listening to each other, we’re reflecting, we’re asking tough questions, we’re respectful of different points of view.”

As a private citizen, Obama said he won’t stop “working on behalf of the things that I care about.”

“The bottom line is that, I don’t know about you all, but I’m still fired up and I’m still ready to go,” Obama concluded.

Brazile ended the call by thanking Shapiro for his “tremendous leadership.”
“I know you have a lot of work ahead, your service to the Commonwealth of Pennsylvania. Thank you so much and I hope you’re with us as we begin our work in focusing on the future. Thank you for your great leadership as well,” Brazile said.

“Thank you, you can count on it,” Shapiro responded.

Sounds like Shapiro is “fired up and ready to go” as the state’s next attorney general. We’ll be watching.

Sunday, November 6, 2016

What's Next for Bill Cosby?

Entertainer Bill Cosby will be back in a Montgomery County courtroom next month. 

At that time, Judge Steven T. O’Neill is expected to rule on District Attorney Kevin R. Steele’s request to allow 13 other women, who accused Cosby of uncharged sexual misconduct from the 1960s through the 1990s, to testify at Cosby’s trial on charges he sexually assaulted one woman, Andrea Constand, at his Cheltenham mansion in 2004.

Last week, Steele and Deputy District Attorney Robert Falin argued the women should be permitted to testify at Cosby’s trial for the alleged assault of Constand under rules governing so-called “prior bad acts” to prove Cosby engaged in a “common scheme or plan” or a so-called unique “signature” they claim is shown across the stories of his accusers. Prosecutors contend there are similarities between Cosby’s alleged prior bad conduct and Constand’s allegations.

Bill Cosby arrest photo/Courtesy Montco DA
After the hearing, it became clear the judge must decide whether he will conduct “in camera” reviews, private interviews held in a judge’s chambers, of the women. Defense lawyer Brian J. McMonagle, who is trying to keep the testimony of the 13 women out of Cosby’s trial next June, wants the judge to carefully review and weigh what the other alleged accusers have to say before their testimony is permitted at trial.

“I want you to find out as gatekeeper what’s going on here. What might be wrong in Denmark,” McMonagle told O’Neill, questioning the reliability of the testimony and the motives of the 13 other women, 10 of whom he claimed are represented by high-profile, civil rights lawyer Gloria Allred, and have been paraded in front of the media.

Allred attended last week’s hearing and appeared to listen attentively as her name was brought up.
Gloria Allred/Photo by Carl Hessler Jr.

O'Neill sked McMonagle and co-defense lawyer Angela C. Agrusa to propose a specific plan for the judge to interview the women privately. O’Neill indicated he may or may not consider it.
Montgomery County Judge Steven T. O'Neill

Steele has already outlined the claims of each of the 13 women, some aspiring actresses and models, in court papers, keeping their identities a secret, identifying them only as “Prior Victim One through Thirteen.”

“That’s our offer of proof on what we’re asking the court to rule on,” said Steele, adding he is willing to submit redacted statements of each of the proposed witnesses to the judge to support what he already revealed in court papers.
Steele doesn’t want the redacted statements released publicly.

McMonagle said the judge should not accept the prosecution’s composite at face value, rather, the judge should review the accusers’ actual, individual stories.

Last week’s hearing abruptly turned heated when Steele lashed out at defense lawyers for publicly naming some of the women when they responded in court papers to Steele’s request to allow the 13 women to testify.
Montco DA Kevin R. Steele

“It’s another attempt to intimidate witnesses. Some of these people have not been in the press and (the defense) identified them and it’s wrong,” Steele bellowed. “They make a public filing. It’s to put it out in public, to put it out in the press.”

“I’m surprised Mr. Steele went there today. No one has done anything inappropriate. We didn’t make an unfettered disclosure of anything,” McMonagle, his voice raised, responded, claiming many of the 13 women have already held press conferences on their own.

“This is a crucial time in this courthouse and the criminal justice system,” said McMonagle, adding citizens are supposed to have the presumption of innocence. “But the pendulum has swung and I’ve never seen it swung to the point it has now.

“Someone wants to call them victims. I call them accusers. These are accusations,” McMonagle added.
Brian J. McMonagle/Photo by Carl Hessle r Jr.

McMonagle suggested the pendulum has swung to the point prosecutors can propose bringing in witnesses who have nothing to do with Constand “to attack a man’s liberty…and they want to point fingers and say that we don’t have a right to identify them?”

“The pendulum has swung,” McMonagle reiterated angrily.

One thing is certain, more legal fireworks are likely between Steele and McMonagle as Cosby's case winds its way through the court system.

Stay tuned. Cosby returns to Montgomery County Court for pretrial hearings Dec. 13 and Dec. 14. Mr. Everybody’s Business will be there.

Saturday, November 5, 2016

Montco Sheriff Welcomes Two New Deputies

Those working at the Montgomery County Courthouse are about to see two new faces guarding courtrooms and conducting prisoner transports. Sheriff Sean P. Kilkenny and Chief Deputy T. Michael Beaty welcomed two new deputies, during a recent swearing-in ceremony at the courthouse in Norristown.

"As we begin to look at another round of applicants next week, we will continue to focus on bringing in the absolute best and motivated candidates to serve our diverse county population," Kilkenny said.

So join me in welcoming the newest deputies.
Deputy Sylvester Gomes takes oath/Photo courtesy Montco Sheriff's Dept.

Lower Gwynedd resident Sylvester Gomes is a graduate of the Montgomery County Community College Police Academy and a U.S. Army National Guard infantry sergeant, who has earned the U.S. Army Achievement Medal, U.S. Army Reserve Component Medal, National Defense Service Medal, Iraq Campaign Medal, Global War on Terrorism Medal, and other awards.  Gomes also served as a U.S. Marine Corps Reserves machine gunner, and is a graduate of Abington Senior High School.

Deputy Kayla Oelschlager is a graduate of Upper Perkiomen High School, where she played lacrosse and was the captain of the water polo team.  Oelschlager is also a certified veterinary assistant and resides in Pennsburg.
Deputy Kayla Oelschlager takes oath/ Photo courtesy Montco Sheriff's Dept

Mr. Everybody’s Business says welcome and congratulations.

Wednesday, October 26, 2016

Reaction to Kane Sentencing was Swift

Before the ink was even dry on the sentencing sheet for former Pennsylvania Attorney General Kathleen G. Kane, comments came flooding in from those currently in charge of the office and those running in the upcoming election to succeed her.
Kathleen Kane/Photo from Mercury Video by Carl Hessler Jr.

“Today is another sad day for the Commonwealth and its citizens. The Office of Attorney General is moving forward with steps to restore the public’s confidence in the work that we do and the way that we do it,” said Bruce R. Beemer, Kane’s former top deputy who was appointed to run the office after Kane’s perjury conviction and resignation in August. “The men and women of the OAG are dedicated public servants who do their jobs with integrity on a daily basis. That is what the public expects and deserves.”

Beemer, who was Kane’s chief of the criminal prosecution section, testified for prosecutors against Kane during her August trial.

Beemer testified at trial that Kane “was not happy” when she read a March 2014 Philadelphia Inquirer article that was “critical” of her. Prosecutors alleged that’s when Kane decided to retaliate against a former agent, who she blamed for the negative publicity, by orchestrating the release to a reporter of secret information regarding a 2009 grand jury investigation that the agent supervised and then didn’t pursue charges.

A news article with the secret information was published in June 2014.

“I was shocked. I couldn’t believe it,” Beemer testified in August about seeing the article, adding it caused him to suspect a leak in the attorney general’s office. “I viewed it as quite problematic.”

Kane, 50, was sentenced to 10 to 23 months in jail and 8 years of probation on perjury and abuse of power charges. She remains free on bail while appealing her conviction.

The two candidates running in the Nov. 8 election to replace Kane also issued statements after her sentencing.

Joshua Shapiro/Photo by Carl Hessler Jr.
“In August, a jury of her peers determined Kathleen Kane’s guilt and today the court sentenced her to a prison term, showing that no one is above the law,” said Josh Shapiro, the Democrat for attorney general in the Nov. 8 election. “As the people’s attorney general, I’ll lead with integrity as I have throughout my career in public service and always protect the rights, safety and health of each and every Pennsylvanian. I will enforce the law without the fear or favor and work tirelessly to heal the breach of trust that exists in our justice system.”

Republican attorney general candidate John Rafferty said this:

“Today marks another sad chapter for the Commonwealth of Pennsylvania and the Office of Attorney General. This entire episode is a stark reminder of the damages of putting an individual in the Office of Attorney General who lacks the requisite experience for the office and is driven more by blind political ambition than doing what’s in the best interests of our Commonwealth. That is why I have pledged to only serve as our next attorney general and not run for higher office. My opponent refuses to take this pledge. As our next attorney general, I will restore integrity and public confidence to the office and refocus our efforts on protecting the people of Pennsylvania.”

Whoever wins the election will have their work cut out for them. Two of Kane’s former coworkers testified Monday that the criminal investigation of their leader hurt the agency and created a demoralizing atmosphere. 

“It was like a poisonous cloud over every corner of the office. The climate in there had become intolerable,” said Clarke Madden, a former deputy attorney general in the criminal law division, adding all employees of the agency were affected by the investigation and Kane's reaction to it. “It was like dancing on a trap door.”

Erik Olsen, currently a chief deputy attorney general who’s had a 30-year legal career, said, “Personally, this has been the worst three years of my professional career.”

Olsen testified he initially was “thrilled” when Kane was elected and attended her inauguration in 2012. Olsen believed Kane would be a good addition to an office he believed in the past had a “misogynistic” atmosphere.

But Olsen said things soon changed and he saw Kane becoming more “isolated.”

“Through a pattern of systematic firings and Nixonian espionage, she created a terror zone in this office,” Olsen testified.

Kane's former coworkers said the scandal hurt the reputation of the state office and agents carried it on their backs into every courtroom in the state. Other law enforcement agencies didn’t want to work with the attorney general’s office and victims didn’t trust the agency, they said.

 “We’re trying to repair relationships with law enforcement. It’s been a difficult two years,” Olsen said.

Sunday, October 23, 2016

PROSECUTORS: Kathleen Kane's Decision to Resign, "not a mitigating factor"

[NOTE: Former Pennsylvania Attorney General Kathleen Margaret Kane faces sentencing Monday, Oct. 24 after a jury convicted her of charges of perjury and abuse of power, finding she orchestrated the illegal disclosure of secret grand jury information to the media and engaged in acts designed to cover up her conduct. She faces a possible maximum sentence of 12 to 24 years in prison. Prosecutors are seeking prison time; defense is seeking probation or house arrest.]

As Montgomery County District Attorney Kevin R. Steele prepares for Kathleen Kane’s sentencing hearing, he has, in court papers, notified Judge Wendy Demchick-Alloy of his opinion that Kane’s decision to resign as attorney general two days after her conviction is not a mitigating factor to consider for a lesser sentence.

Montco DA Kevin R. Steele

“Kane may well argue to the court at sentencing that her decision to resign as attorney general on August 17, 2016, two days after her conviction, is evidence of her remorse and should be considered as a mitigating factor for sentencing,” Steele and Deputy District Attorney Thomas W. McGoldrick wrote in court papers. “Such an argument would ring hollow.”

Steele maintained the Constitution of Pennsylvania provides that civil officers “shall be removed on conviction of misbehavior in office or of any infamous crime.” Citing state law, Steele said a crime is infamous “if its underlying facts establish a felony, a crimen falsi offense, or a like offense involving the charge of falsehood that affects the public administration of justice.”

“The removal of a civil officer after conviction of an infamous crime is to occur at the time of sentencing for the infamous crime, and the removal is imposed by the trial judge as part of the sentence,” Steele and McGoldrick contend.

 Accordingly, Steele argued, following her conviction on Aug. 15 “of several infamous crimes,” Kane would have been automatically removed from office by a judge at her Oct. 24 sentencing hearing, pursuant to the Pennsylvania Constitution.

“Thus, her resignation on August 17 was not a sign of remorse or her part. Rather, it merely sped up what was a foregone conclusion by about nine weeks,” Steele and McGoldrick argued. “As such, Kane’s decision to resign should not be given any consideration as a mitigating factor at sentencing.”

Kathleen Kane/ Photo from Mercury Video by Carl Hessler Jr.

Stay tuned. Kane learns her fate from Demchick-Alloy at 10 a.m. Monday. Follow @MontcoCourtNews for the latest developments.