Wednesday, January 28, 2015

Megan McCartin - From Courtroom to Competition

    (Note: From time to time I'm going to use this blog to tell readers the stories about the interesting activities that those who work day-in-and-day-out in public service take part in or about the goals they accomplish outside their time at the Montgomery County Courthouse. I hope you enjoy the profiles and learning more about the heights to which some courthouse employees have climbed and the milestones they've reached.) 
Montgomery County Courthouse/Photo by Carl Hessler Jr.

     Many around the Montgomery County Courthouse might be feeling the winter blues these days and one person in particular is looking forward to the warmth of spring. Megan McCartin, a full-time court reporter for 14 years who has been assigned solely to Judge William R. Carpenter's courtroom  since 2005, is looking forward to getting outdoors and back on the water with her local dragon boat club for some friendly competition.
    Who can blame her, for the job of a registered professional court reporter is stressful, time-consuming with long hours, and sometimes emotionally draining, especially when having to record heart-wrenching testimony from crime victims or their survivors.
    "It's a great stress reliever. It's a healthy stress reliever," McCartin said about her membership with the Philadelphia Flying Phoenix Women's Dragon Boat Club. "It truly, for that hour or hour and a half on the river, you're focused so much on improving your stroke. It's a full body workout. You're concentrating and your focused on something other than the crappy day you might have had or the work you have still waiting at home. It is just so refreshing.
Megan McCartin
    "I'm not thinking of it as exercise, like going to the gym. It's so different. You want to do the best you can for the team," said McCartin, married with two daughters, ages 25 and 22. "It's hairs of a second by which you can win or lose a race and it's that extra oomph that gets you going and you push yourself."
     McCartin participated in the international World Cup Crew Championships competition last Sept. 1-7 in Ravenna, Italy, which is located on the Adriatic Coast. McCartin is a member of the Senior A team, which includes women aged 40 and above.
     For McCartin, who joined the organization four years ago, it was the first time she competed internationally.
     "We didn't come in last but we certainly didn't come in first," said McCartin, adding teams from Canada and Australia fared better during the competition which was held on a man-made lake. "I still feel we held our own among some young women."
     McCartin has the medals to prove her power and aerobic endurance and proudly displays them at her courthouse office.
Megan McCartin displays her medals/Photos by Carl Hessler Jr.

     McCartin, of Horsham, said she enjoyed meeting competitors from all over the world. Teams from 27 different countries, 5,400 paddlers, participated.
     "After the opening ceremonies everybody just mingled and talked and got pictures with each other. And on the last day, everybody, after their last race, would go around and try and trade jerseys with another team," McCartin recalled.
    McCartin joined the team initially thinking it would be a good way to socialize with other women and exercise. Her sister, Colleen Hogan, also joined.
     The group practices on the Schuykill River. The crew consists of 22 people, including 20 paddlers and a steers person and a drummer who set the stroke rate and give commands. Typical race distances are 200, 500, 1,000 and 2,000 meters.
     "I think my competitiveness started blossoming as I joined," said McCartin, who was encouraged by a fellow court reporter and friend from Philadelphia to join the organization. "I never dreamed of getting so involved and loving it so much that I wanted to compete to the level that we've done."
    "When I get on the river, first of all it's such a different perspective of the city when you're sitting on the water looking at the skyline. It's really beautiful," McCartin said. "It is a thrill."
McCartin's medals
     McCartin fell in love with the sport immediately and the commaraderie among the women was inspiring.
     "I felt like I walked into a room full of 40 of my best friends. I just felt like they were people I could count on, if I needed anything I could call them. They are from all walks of life, we have doctors, we have lawyers, we have court reporters and a number of teachers," McCartin said.
    The competition season typically runs from April until October. But McCartin works out at a gym and cross trains during the off-season and the group paddles at least once a week at an indoor paddle pool to prepare for the next season.
     "We're not competing at this time of the year," McCartin said recently. "It's sad when we take the boats out of the water, it's sort of like when I cover my pool at the end of the summer. It's kind of depressing. But we'll be back on the river in April."
     So, if you encounter McCartin at the courthouse wish her the best of luck on her upcoming season of competition. Go Megan!

(Note: Additional information about the dragon boat team can be obtained at )

Monday, January 26, 2015

Out of the Mouths of 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 shaking my head in disbelief. 
Montgomery County Courthouse/Photo by Carl Hessler Jr.
     On any given day there are numerous memorable comments made by defendants. Here are some recent utterances overheard by 'Mr. Everybody's Business' at the Montgomery County Courthouse:
     It was a trial unlike any other I had covered in county court - the bank robbery trial of Ishaq Ibrahim, who claimed throughout his case that he was a "sovereign citizen." Ibrahim ranted that he didn't consent to the proceedings and that prosecutors had no legal authority to take him to trial. Ibrahim, 28, of Philadelphia, challenged Judge Garrett D. Page's jurisdiction over the trial and suggested he wasn't subject to the laws of government proceedings of the U.S. Ibrahim consistently shouted, "That's not my name," in court when authorities referred to him by his birth name. Ibrahim initially insisted on being addressed by his new names, "sonstar" or "free man." Later, he insisted he didn't have a name.
Convicted bank robber Ishaq Ibrahim/Mercury Photo by Carl Hessler Jr.
      Here are just a few of the strangest remarks Ibrahim made, as he was led to and from court by sheriff's deputies in the public hallways during the four-day trial, as I addressed him as "Mr. Ibrahim" and sought his comments on various aspects of the trial and the guilty verdict:

  • "My name is sonstar, for the record."
  • "I don't have a name, for the record. Businesses have names."
  • "My dog calls me 'Ruff.'"
  • "Do you have my permission to speak to me, for the record?"
  • "Are you agreeing that you do not  have my permission to speak to me?"
  • "Are you agreeing that you are infringing on my property by filming me without my permission?"
  • "I have preserved all of my Common Law rights through the Uniform Commercial Code A1-308."
     Finally, at one point Ibrahim, obviously fed up with my addressing him by his birth name, said to me, "Are you okay buddy? You might need a psychological evaluation done. That's not my name, How many times do I have to tell you?"
     Naturally, as Ibrahim's advice that I get a psychological evaluation became common knowledge around the courthouse, it became fodder for lawyers and other courthouse employees I know to chide me endlessly with comments such as, "We've been telling you that for years, Carl."

     Ibrahim was convicted by the judge of charges he was one of the gunmen who entered the Lower Pottsgrove bank he was accused of robbing. Incidentally, numerous spectators at the courthouse commented about how Ibrahim used his sweatshirt to cover the bottom half of his face from the glare of a reporter's camera, much like authorities alleged at trial that he used a scarf to cover his face when he entered the bank to rob it.
Ishaq Ibrahim/Mercury Photo by Carl Hessler Jr.
     I am left wondering what Ibrahim will have to say when he's brought back to court later this year for his sentencing hearing. Stay tuned.

Friday, January 16, 2015

Montco Drug Court Judge Steven T. O'Neill Honored for Distinguished Service

The Montgomery County Courthouse/Photo by Carl Hessler Jr.
       Congratulations go out to Montgomery County Judge Steven T. O'Neill who was honored last week with The Honorable Milton O. Moss Public Service Award from the Montgomery Bar Association. The award was presented during the organization's annual luncheon. Bar Association officials said O'Neill was selected for the honor for his "distinguished service to the judicial system" for his contributions as administrator of the county's drug treatment court.
     Immediately after receiving the award, O'Neill dashed to preside over a Friday session of the weekly treatment court. A humbled O'Neill shared the honor with the counselors, probation officials, prosecutors and defense lawyers who work in the trenches of the program and said the honor was a testament to all of their hard work. O'Neill was congratulated by about two dozen of the current participants of the program.
Montgomery Bar Foundation President Steven Lupin (left) presents Judge Steven T.O'Neill with public service award. /Photo courtesy Montgomery Bar Association
     The drug court program, established in April 2006 and funded by the county, is an innovative approach to disposing of drug-fueled criminal offenses by offering participants intensive help to fight their addictions. The program encourages them to change their lifestyles and offers an opportunity to earn a dismissal of the charges against them or to have their court supervision terminated early. Participation in the program, which is voluntary, is at least 15 months long and may last as long as three years. The length of the program depends on how well an offender succeeds in dealing with the addiction and becoming a productive, crime-free citizen. The program typically has 130 participants at any given time. (Judge O'Neill on drug court )
     Last year, The Mercury, as part of a four-part series on the danger of heroin addiction, examined the drug treatment court. I spent many days observing the court and interviewing those dedicated to saving lives and some of the former addicts who were on their way to getting clean. The drug court graduations were highly emotional, complete with tears of joy as the graduates praised their probation officers and counselors for saving their lives. With hugs and high-fives, it was clear who the graduates loved and admired - Judge O'Neill.
Montco Judge Steven T. O'Neill/Photo by Carl Hessler Jr.
     Nikki Golden, a Royersford woman who spent 15 months in the program, gave birth to a drug-free baby in February 2011, graduated from the program in March 2012, and is now leading a productive life, said it best: "I love Judge O'Neill. He genuinely cares. He is trying to help you. He is trying to save your life. If it wasn't for drug court, I don't know where I would be, probably nowhere good." (Nikki Golden's Story )
     I couldn't think of a better candidate, or more deserving person, to receive the distinguished service award. Congratulations, Judge O'Neill, for providing exceptional service in support of the justice system.

O'Neill's Gavel of Truth/Photo by Carl Hessler Jr./The Mercury

Friday, January 9, 2015

Happy New Year! The Political Fireworks Begin

Montgomery County Courthouse/Mercury  Photo by Carl Hessler Jr.
Happy New Year readers! Let the fireworks begin - the political fireworks, that is.

Election season at the Montgomery County Courthouse kicked off with a bang this week when District Attorney Risa Vetri Ferman announced she won't seek a third term as D.A. and instead will seek a seat on the county bench. Within an hour, Ferman's second in command, First Assistant District Attorney Kevin R. Steele, 47, of Lower Merion, announced his intention to seek a Democratic Party endorsement to move into Ferman's fourth-floor office. Just one day later, current county Commissioner Bruce L. Castor Jr., 53, of Lower Salford, who was D.A. from 2000-2008, announced he wanted his old job back and will seek the GOP endorsement this year.

It's definitely going to be an interesting, and potentially contentious, election season.

The candidates' press releases couldn't be included in their entirety in the newspaper stories announcing their intentions. So, I thought I'd share those entire statements here to let readers see how the candidates approached their decisions.


     Eight years ago this week, I announced my decision to run for District Attorney of Montgomery County. I did so based on my strong desire to keep our community a safe place to live, work, and raise a family. The overwhelming support of our community in 2007 and then again in 2011, allowed me to lead the District Attorney's Office and to continue doing the work I love and to which I have dedicated my career for the past twenty-two years.
     During this time, I came to fully appreciate the fact that our criminal justice system relies on competent and brave police officers to investigate crimes and tough professionals to prosecute them in the DA's office. Working alongside the men and women in this office, and our county's outstanding police departments, has been a privilege. The partnership between law enforcement and my office has enabled us to deliver justice to many, many victims of crime and their families, and that has been a true honor.

Montgomery County District Attorney Risa Vetri Ferman/Photo by Carl Hessler Jr.

     Looking in the eyes of a victim or their loved ones and being able to tell them "we got the bad guy" is a feeling that is unsurpassed in my professional life. Knowing that the work we've done has made this county safer for victims of domestic violence, abused children, and seniors vulnerable to scams and other crimes has been equally rewarding and fulfilling.
     Plato wrote, "The beginning is the most important part of the work." I have been very fortunate that the District Attorney's Office has provided me with many new beginnings - first as an assistant district attorney, then as chief of the trials division, later as first assistant district attorney and finally in my eight years as the county's top law enforcement officer. During this latest chapter, I take great pride in the accomplishments of our office, among them:
  • An incredible 98% conviction rate
  • Founding Mission Kids - our Montgomery County Child Advocacy Center to protect abused kids
  • Creating Montgomery County's first Elder Abuse Task Force to protect vulnerable seniors
  • Establishing Montgomery County's first Violent Crime Unit to target dangerous offenders
  • Building an unprecedented partnership with Montgomery County's school districts to keep kids safe
     What I have come to realize, however, is that in this office that I cherish, there are no new beginnings left for me. As much as I treasure my time in the DA's Office and the opportunity to protect the citizens of our community, I know that now is the time for me to move on. By the end of this year I will have served in this office for twenty-three years - fifteeen as a line prosecutor and eight as the District Attorney. Over those years, I believe I have accomplished every goal and challenge I had set for myself. Now I am ready to embark on a new chapter of my own life. As much as I love this place, I know that it's time for me to say "goodbye" and start a new journey - one sure to bring new adventrues, new challenges and new mountains to climb.
     With recent scandals in Pennsylvania's court system still fresh in memory, I am convinced it is critical we assure residents throughout Montgomery County that our judicial bodies are above reproach. We need tough judges who understand the criminal justice system and who will be firm, fair, independent and ethical. After much thought and conversations with my family and trusted colleagues, friends and neighbors, I have decided to seek a seat on the Montgomery County Court of Common Pleas in 2015. My commitment to public service in our community remains as strong as ever, and I am hopeful that my years of experience in the criminal justice system will serve our citizens well - if I am lucky enough to earn a seat on our bench. It would be a great honor and privilege for me to continue my commitment to public serve on the Court of Common Pleas in my home county, the same courts before whom I have practiced for over two decades as a prosecutor.


Montgomery County First Assistant District Attorney Kevin R. Steele announced his decision to run for Montgomery County District Attorney and is seeking the endorsement of the Montgomery County Democratic Committee.

Earlier today, Steele registered the necessary paperwork with the Montgomery County Election Board to establish the Steele4DA Committee.”  His campaign is chaired by Joe Foster of Lower Merion, who also serves as Vice Chairman of the Montgomery County Democratic Committee.  The Vice Chairman of the Steele4DA Committee is Mike Barbiero, who also serves as Chairman of the Abington-Rockledge Democratic Committee.  The Treasurer is Anne OConnell Umbrecht of Lower Merion.

Over the course of the last year, Ive spent time meeting with people all over Montgomery County exploring what they were looking for in a District Attorney. It is clear to me that they want someone with experience, vision and innovative skills to lead the office forward, said Steele.  Im excited to work with a great team of Democratic leaders to become the first elected Democrat to be the top law enforcement officer in Montgomery County, Steele continued.

Montgomery County First Asst. D.A. Kevin R. Steele/Photo by Carl Hessler Jr.

Kevin is a committed public servant who has served as a prosecutor for almost 20 years where hes earned a reputation as a tough, skillful and innovative advocate for justice. He has worked tirelessly to safeguard our children, elderly, schools and neighborhoods.  Kevin has been at the forefront of new and vital criminal justice initiatives aimed at ensuring the safety and security of our community as well as the use of technology in the judicial process.

Kevin and his wife, Tracy, are raising their three children in Lower Merion, where he has served on his local fire department board since 1997, has coached youth sports and led his local civic association.. 


Montgomery County Commissioner Bruce L. Castor, Jr. announced that he will seek to return to the office of District Attorney in the upcoming election, an office he previously held from January 2000 to January 2008.

With the recent announcement that the current District Attorney will be running for a seat on the Court of Common Pleas, he is excited to run for reelection as the county’s top prosecutor. Prior to his election as Commissioner in 2007, Mr. Castor was a prosecutor for 22 years, including two terms as District Attorney.

Mr. Castor is serving his second term as County Commissioner. He states: “although I enjoy the public service of the office of County Commissioner especially with my duties supervising the county’s public safety efforts, I admit that I have known for some time that my most professionally satisfying years with the County were spent in furthering the interests of law enforcement. Keeping our streets safe and those who would do us harm behind bars is a public service second to none.”

During his time in the District Attorney’s office, Mr. Castor received the Trial Advocacy Award from the National Association of Government Attorneys in Capital Litigation for his work investigating and prosecuting homicides, further receiving recognition by Governor Ridge, Governor Casey, and twice by the Pennsylvania General Assembly. He was inducted in the Pennsylvania Police Hall of Fame in 2007, and named a Pennsylvania Super Lawyer ten times including four while serving as District Attorney. He is the only Montgomery County prosecutor in history to have ever gained such multiple distinctions. He left the DA’s Office as the sitting President of the Pennsylvania District Attorneys’ Association, having unanimously been elected by his peers statewide. He holds that organizations’ Meritorious Service Award, garnered while still in office, an extremely rare honor.

Mr. Castor has bipartisan support in seeking a return to the DA’s Office office. John M. Elliott, Esquire, a Democrat and Chairman of the law firm Elliott Greenleaf endorses Mr. Castor stating that “Bruce is one of the finest prosecutors Pennsylvania has ever had, Republican or Democrat, and I have known quite a few.” Marc R. Steinberg, Esquire, a Republican, the Managing Partner at the law firm Rubin, Glickman, Steinberg & Gifford, past president of the Montgomery Bar Association, and chair of its Bench/Bar Committee, states: “I expect that the legal and law enforcement community, rightfully, will rally around Bruce as our candidate for District Attorney, beyond question the most qualified and proven lawyer in Montgomery County for that office.”

Mr. Castor knows that support from the law enforcement community is vital: “Through the years, I have maintained my many relationships with the men and women who live public service each day. Their backing will be critical to our victory.”

Bruce L. Castor Jr./Mercury file photo

Stephen Neufer and Robert Hegele, both former police officers with decades of experience, and each past presidents of Fraternal Order of Police Lodge 14 for Montgomery County, support Mr. Castor’s return as District Attorney. Mr. Hegele says that “it has always been obvious that Bruce has a passion for law enforcement. I am happy that he wants to return to the office of District Attorney. In fact, I’m delighted.” A sentiment echoed by Mr. Neufer who added: “Bruce has the unparalleled respect of the law enforcement community in SE Pennsylvania.” Retired Horsham Chief of Police, and past president of the Police Chiefs’ Association of Montgomery County, Robert Ruxton, stated: “I worked with Bruce for many years while I was with Horsham Township, as chief and as president. I’m excited about the possibility of him returning as District Attorney of the County that we in law enforcement all love and serve. No one can do the job better than Bruce. I should know. I watched him at work many, many times.”

Tuesday, January 6, 2015

Montco Detective Completes National FBI Program

     Congratulations go out to Montgomery County Detective Lieutenant James F. McGowan who has graduated from the 258th session of the Federal Bureau of Investigation's National Academy.
     "Internationally known for its academic excellence, the National Academy Program, held at the FBI Academy in Quantico, Va., provides 11 weeks of advanced investigative, management and fitness training for selected command officers having proven records as professionals within their agencies," county District Attorney Risa Vetri Ferman said in a press release announcining McGowan's accommplishment. "Only one-half of one percent of all law enforcement officers gets the opportunity to attend the National Academy."
     McGowan has served with the county district attorney's office since 2000 and currently leads the homicide unit in the detective bureau. McGowan began his law enforcement career with the Hatfield Township Police Department in 1987 and served in both the patrol and detective divisions. McGowan, who has undergraduate and graduate degrees in criminal justice from DeSales University, left the Hatfield department in 2000 to join the county detective bureau.

Montgomery County Detective Lieutenant James McGowan
Photo courtesy Montco DA's Office
     During his career, McGowan has been involved in numerous high-profile criminal investigations.
     Last year, McGowan was one of several detectives who received commendations from Ferman for his role in one of the most high-profile Montgomery County investigations in recent memory. The county’s homicide unit was honored for successfully prosecuting a man who illegally sold a gun to another who used it to kill Plymouth Police Officer Bradley Fox, of New Hanover. McGowan received a commendation from Ferman in recognition of his "outstanding investigation, prosecution and conviction” of Michael Joseph Henry, who confessed to the “straw purchase” of nine guns, one of which was used to kill Fox in September 2012.
     McGowan also was involved in the successful prosecution of four men, who were convicted either of first-, second-. or third-degree murder, for their roles in the 2 p.m. May 5, 2013, home invasion robbery in West Pottsgrove that ended in the gunshot slaying of 19-year-old Kareem Ali Borowy on a Lower Pottsgrove roadway. Three of the men are serving life prison sentences.
     McGowan also currently is an adjunct professor with the Montgomery County Community College and DeSales University, in Center Valley, Pa.
     The 258th Session of the National Academy consisted of men and woman from 49 states. Included in the class are members of law enforcement agencies from the District of Columbia, 26 international countries, three military oganizations  and four federal civilian organizations, according to Ferman.
     Kudos to McGowan on his latest accomplishment!