Friday, March 28, 2014

Montco Legal Community Remembers

                                 Montgomery County Courthouse/ Photo by Carl Hessler Jr.

     They were considered mentors, colleagues and friends of those in the legal arena and they were remembered with respect and some humor during a poignant memorial service held by the Montgomery Bar Association on Friday. About 150 people packed the ceremonial courtroom at the county courthouse, its walls adorned with the portraits of past and present judges, to honor 10 legal eagles.
     "Barbara loved the law and believed in the law. That was the guiding passion of her life," Theodore S. Coxe Jr. said as he presented the memorial minute in honor of the late Barbara C. Molinsky.
     Similar comments were made by colleagues and relatives of the nine other members who were remembered as great trial lawyers, legal scholars and friends who had a passion for the law and life. The service, thoughtful and reflective, was attended by the entire county bench and other county officials.
     One thing was evident, all of those remembered loved the practice of law and will be missed by all. As I stood in the hallowed courtroom listening to some of the  inspirational tributes, I thought the service was a fitting way to celebrate those who made indelible marks on Montgomery County's  legal community.
     In addition to Molinsky, others remembered with loving tributes on Friday were: Richard Max Bockol; William R. Cooper; Bernard V. DiGiacomo; J. William Ditter III; Cindy B. Hallock; Arthur Lefkoe; Jack M. Marden; Robert E. Slota Jr.; and Thomas E. Waters Jr.
     The service is one of the Bar Association's most memorable traditions and has been held annually since 1925.



Out of the Mouths Defendants...

     As a courtroom observer, there are times I think I've seen and heard it all. But then a defendant comes along and totally destroys that notion by spouting something shocking or humorous that makes my jaw drop or has me smiling with everyone else in the courtroom.
     On any given day there are numerous memorable comments made by defendants. Here are some recent utterances overheard by 'Mr. Everybody's Business' in a Montgomery County courtroom:

Montgomery County Courthouse
                                      Photo by Carl Hessler Jr.
      In court for baring it all while trespassing at a male acquaintance's home, a Narberth woman revealed the naked truth about her conduct.   
    “He didn’t know I was coming over. I was naked after he was like, 'you can’t be here.' It was a tactic,” the 43-year-old trespasser nonchalantly told Judge Steven T. O’Neill, explaining why she stripped naked when a Lower Merion man with whom she claimed to have been “involved” ordered her from his home last September. “I’m sure you’ve witnessed one or two in your lifetime.”
   “No, I haven’t. No, I haven’t,” the judge quickly responded to the woman's unexpected, off-the-cuff remark, which elicited giggles from some courtroom observers.

   The woman, who was sentenced to five years’ probation after she pleaded guilty to a charge of criminal trespass, also pleaded guilty to a stalking charge in connection with allegations she harassed another man, a former employer, by repeatedly calling his business, personal and home phone numbers in March 2013. The judge ordered the woman to have no contact with the victims.
   After the judge wished her “good luck,” the woman revealed she hoped her next appearance before a judge was for more romantic reasons.
   “Next time I’m in front of a judge, I hope I’m getting married,” the woman uttered to everyone's surprise.

   “It’s a good idea, as long as it’s not (the victims),” O’Neill said.
   “Just not a guy that I stalked,” the woman retorted.


     In January, a Pottstown man tried to strike up a conversation with sheriff's deputies who were guarding him as he waited for his domestic violence trial to resume before Judge Wendy Demchick-Alloy. The defendant, obviously bored by a series of courtroom delays, wondered how deputies deal with the downtime associated with the sometimes slow pursuit of justice and then uttered, "I guess slow money is better than no money."
     The man, who was eventually convicted of assaulting his girlfriend, also told one deputy, "I wish I was a sheriff."
     Not likely, I would think, since he was convicted of that domestic assault.


     In February, a 25-year-old Whitpain man showed up in court to be sentenced for conspiring to purchase nearly two pounds of marijuana from another man on a parking lot of a Trappe shopping center in 2012.
     When Judge Steven T. O'Neill asked the man when he last "smoked weed," the man didn't hesitate in responding, "probably like a week ago." You could have heard a pin drop in the courtroom as spectators must  have wondered to themselves, "Did he just say that to a judge?"
     The judge expressed incredulity that the man would engage in drug use knowing that in just days he was to appear in court.

     Stay tuned. I'll let you know when the next defendant makes a memorable remark.

Friday, March 7, 2014

A courtroom is a lesson in highs and lows

     A courtroom is always full of life.
     Whether it's lawyers arguing their points of view; defendants pleading for mercy; victims weeping for justice; judges handing out stern words of advice; or spectators applauding the latest group of graduates from drug and veterans treatment courts - it's all part of the cycle of courtroom life. Truth is, there are many highs and lows and in this career I get to witness them all.
     I could find no better example of contrasts than what occurred in the courtroom of Montgomery County Judge Garrett D. Page on Friday, March 7. It certainly was a day filled with highs and lows.
     In the morning, Judge Page sentenced a Pottstown man to jail for stalking and threatening to kill his ex-girlfriend after their relationship turned sour. The judge sternly vowed to 'crush' the defendant if he violated the sentence in any way and lectured the man about treating women with respect. Judge Page said domestic violence will not be tolerated in Montgomery County as the defendant bowed his head in shame.The victim of the domestic abuse was in court as her ex-paramour was hauled off to jail. The defendant's mother was there as well to witness her son's fall. Sadness permeated the walls of the courtroom. There were no smiles, no happiness, as those involved in the saga left the courtroom.
     However, within hours of dealing with a relationship that had gone terribly wrong, the judge was beaming as he officiated at the marriage of a young, Norristown couple, who then posed for photographs with the judge. There were kisses and embraces overflowing in the courtroom. As the happy couple and their loved ones left the courtroom to begin their journey, I caught the judge and his staff smiling at what they just witnessed.
     "It's the ebb and flow of being a judge," Page said to me afterward. "You get high points and low points. This is certainly a high point. This is one where everybody goes out of the courtroom happy."

                                           Montgomery County  Judge Garrett D. Page  
                                                                                           Photo/Carl Hessler Jr.

     It certainly was a day of contrasts. But the melancholy of the morning had given way to delight and hope in the afternoon.