Tuesday, September 23, 2014

A Mother's Tears and a Letter of Grief

     You could have heard a pin drop last week in a Montgomery County courtroom when a mother's anguished words, read by a prosecutor to a judge, filled the courtroom where one of the men responsible for her son's murder was sentenced to life imprisonment.
Montgomery County Courthouse/Photo by Carl Hessler Jr.
    Gloria Watson's grief was palpable.
    While Watson, of New York, was not able to join other relatives in the courtroom on that day, Assistant District Attorney Rebecca Strubel read a victim impact letter penned by Watson, whose son, Vincent Taylor, also known as Victor Baez, was gunned down outside a Pottstown bar on March 22, 2013. With each word uttered, the eyes of some of Taylor's relatives shed another tear.
     The entirety of Watson's heartbreaking letter could not be included in a typical news account of the day's events. So, I thought I would share all of those sorrowful words here to give readers a better understanding of the pain that is suffered by those left in the wake of the tragedy of murder.

"To whom it may concern,

     Where do I start? This is the hardest thing I ever had to do in my life. My eldest son, Vincent Taylor, was murdered on March 22, 2013. Everything in my life changed that very moment I got the news. I have not been the same since.
     I have cried every day since that day. Every time I remember him I cry. If he was sick for a long time I would have at least had time to prepare myself that may be, may be he could die. How does a mother accept the death of her child? You bond with that child from the womb and see that child growing up and becoming a man, only to lose him so senselessly.
     An empty void has been left in my heart that will never ever be filled. There was only one Vincent and to me he was everything. He loved life and loved having fun.
     To you who murdered my son, I say to you, you did not only put my son in the grave, but the family who loved him and cared for him, our lives have changed also. I don't imagine that you even gave thought that your life would have changed too. The only difference is you are still alive and if you have a family they can still come and talk to you, but you are obviously dead inside to yourself and to the world for you have committed murder.
     Your life has changed also from that moment because you will no longer have a freedom to make something of yourself, but that your every dignity will be taken away from you and you will now become part of a world of an animal and to be caged. I hope you will have that time to experience all the indignities that you switched your very life for.
     May God have mercy on your soul." - Gloria Watson

     (NOTE: Michael Romain Hinton, 27, of Norristown, was convicted of first-degree murder and was sentenced to a mandatory life sentence for his role in Vincent Taylor's death. Hinton's cousin, Maurice Laverne Andrews Jr., 20, of Pottstown, was convicted of third-degree murder in connection with the slaying and is scheduled to be sentenced next month.)

Friday, September 19, 2014

New Guidelines for District Court Judges

   The 30 magisterial district judges, or as I still call them district court judges, in Montgomery County now have new guidelines to govern their actions while on the bench and outside the courtroom.
    According to the Administrative Office of Pennsylvania Courts, the policies are part of a revised version of the Rules Governing Standards of Conduct of Magisterial District Judges that the Supreme Court of Pennsylvania issued this week. The new rules take effect Dec. 1.
    The guidelines are designed to bring greater clarity to rules affecting the conduct of Pennsylvania's district court judges, rules that have not changed significantly in 40 years, officials said. The guidelines complement a similar rules overhaul approved earlier this year applicable to conduct standards for trial and appellate judges that had been in place without revision since 1973, according to a press release from the Administrative Office of Pennsylvania Courts.
     The new set of rules for district court judges mirror many of the rules for trial and appellate judges that took effect last month. Much of the updating was based on language used in a model judicial code adopted by the American Bar Association and guidelines used in other states.
    "We are fully committed to maintaining the public's trust and confidence in the judicial system," Chief Justice of Pennsylvania Ronald D. Castille said. "These updates help enhance the integrity of our court system so its fairness can remain beyond question."
    The rules differ from the recently adopted rules for other judges in Pennsylvania because district court judges are not required to have a law degree and they may have outside employment that does not conflict with their judicial duties, according to the Administrative Office of Pennsylvania Courts.
    Judges who violate the rules can be suspended or removed from office. A judicial disciplinary process laid out in the state constitution provides for an independent agency - the Judicial Conduct Board - to investigate misconduct complaints about judges and prosecute misconduct violations when appropriate.
    There are a total of 526 district court judges statewide, according to the Administrative Office of Pennsylvania Courts.
    The new code of conduct essentially consists of four canons that discuss judicial ethics. They are:




    To view a complete list of the rules and for more information about the Code of Conduct readers can visit The Unified Judicial System of Pennsylvania's website at www.PACourts.us

Friday, September 5, 2014

Pottstown native Nicholas Reifsnyder is moving on...

     Pottstown-area native and Hill School graduate Nicholas Reifsnyder, who worked in the Montgomery County District Attorney's Office for more than seven years, first as a summer intern while in law school and later as an assistant prosecutor, is moving on to a new challenge. Reifsnyder is joining the law practice of James P. Lyons in Maple Glen where he will concentrate on criminal defense work.
     "He's a local defense attorney and he's one of the best we have so it's an honor and a privilege to be working with him," Reifsnyder said recently as he prepared to leave the DA's office.
     Reifsnyder rose through the ranks as a prosecutor, working his way from the pre-trial division to the economic crimes unit, to the drug unit and then was promoted to the major crimes unit where he was captain of the elder abuse division. Reifsnyder summed up his time as a prosecutor as "fantastic."
     "It's a great place to work. You're working with very bright and very talented people, people who really believe in what they do. The bosses are great people to work for," said Reifsnyder, referring to District Attorney Risa Vetri Ferman, First Assistant District Attorney Kevin R. Steele and Deputy District Attorney Thomas McGoldrick. "All-in-all it was a magnificent experience and I wouldn't trade these last seven years for the world."
     Reifsnyder was born in N.J. but his parents moved to the Pottstown area when he was in the second grade and he attended local public schools and also attended St. Aloysius Catholic school. He is a 2000 graduate of The Hill School. He completed his undergraduate studies at Harvard University and graduated from Temple University Law School.
Nicholas Reifsnyder on his last day as a Montco prosecutor. Mercury Photo by Carl Hessler Jr.
     Those he worked with in the office praised Reifsnyder for his legal acumen and friendly nature.
     "He was someone who was diligent. He was intelligent, he spotted issues. He was someone that the younger people counted on to go to for advice and he will be missed," said Assistant District Attorney Jason Whalley, who worked with Reifsnyder on the drug unit and considers him a friend. "He understood the issues, he prepared and was a good teammate when we were both on the same unit."
     Fellow prosecutor Jordan Friter, who leads the district attorney's sex crimes unit, recalled he and Reifsnyder began their jobs as prosecutors on the same day.
     "Nick is one of the smartest people I have ever had the opportunity to work with. We always bust his chops about going to Harvard," Friter joked. "He keeps the mood of the office light all the time and we're going to miss him a lot."
     Friter said it will be "strange" to appear against Reifsnyder in a courtroom battle.
     "It is strange. When you come into the office you never think about that actually happening but now it's a reality and he's got a job to do and I look forward to going against him," Friter added.
     At the notion of going up against his former colleagues, Reifsnyder said, "Everyone's got a job to do. They have a job to do. I'm going to have a job to do and one of the good things about the people in the office is they don't tend to take things personally. They understand that the defense bar has a job to do just like they do. It might be a little bit weird at first but I think that that will disappear pretty quickly."
     Prosecutor Kathleen Colgan recalled she was a certified legal intern in the office when Reifsnyder accompanied her during her very first court appearance.
     "Nick is a brilliant attorney and I've learned an immeasurable amount by working with him," Colgan said. "Nick has a brilliant legal mind and he had the ability to explain complicated nuances of the law to an intern in a way that I was able to understand it as a very young attorney. He's continued to be a mentor to me."
     Others had this to say as Reifsnyder said his farewells to the office.
     "Nick Reifsnyder was a huge asset to our office and we're definitely going to miss him," said Assistant District Attorney Kristen Feden. "He was an excellent prosecutor, very passionate about his cases."
     "Nick was a great guy to work with and he was always willing to help out with a case," added prosecutor Laura Adshead.
    "Nick was a tremendous prosecutor who demonstrated an extraordinary knowledge of the law and was a powerful presence in the courtroom," said fellow prosecutor Jeremy Abidiwan-Lupo.
     Several years ago, Reifsnyder helped prosecute a Pottstown merchant who sold synthetic marijuana from his downtown convenience store, a crime that ended in a state prison term for the store owner. The prosecution of the store owner and a business associate were an outgrowth of the investigation of a May 2012 double-fatal wreck on State Street in Pottstown during which the driver of the vehicle was driving under the influence of synthetic pot, known as K2, which had been purchased at the store.
     That prosecution marked the first time that a store operator was charged in the county with selling K2 under a state law that went into effect in August 2011 and criminalized such activity.
     "It was a privilege," Reifsnyder said, to participate in that important prosecution.
     Ironically, one of Reifsnyder's legal foes during that case was Lyons.
     "It's a new challenge," Reifsnyder said about his decision to turn to criminal defense work. "I'm looking forward to being able to make sure that people are getting fair trials. You've got to put the commonwealth's evidence to the test. I hope to give the people that I represent the best representation that I possibly can."
     From a personal standpoint, Reifsnyder was always available for press questions and never tried to dodge the press while his cases played out in court. And he always treated reporters with respect, understanding we have a job to do too.
     I look forward to reporting about Reifsnyder's defense career.
     Congratulations, Nick. Best of luck.