Friday, June 5, 2015

Trial Tidbits: From Backpack to Farewell

     It was an interesting week, to say the least, during the trial of a Pottstown man who was convicted of sexually assaulting two women in the borough.
     The trial took an unexpected turn last Thursday when midway through an alleged victim’s testimony, a deputy sheriff entered the courtroom and suggested through hand signals to Judge Steven T. O’Neill that the judge should call for a break in the proceedings. Turns out deputies discovered a suspicious, lone backpack setting outside Courtroom 5. During these troubling times, unattended backpacks are never ignored, especially at a courthouse, are taken very seriously by security officials.
     So, Judge O’Neill interrupted the testimony and asked all those in the courtroom if anyone inadvertently left a backpack outside the courtroom door. As the witness, one of the victims, left the witness box and began to leave the courtroom to see if it was her backpack, one of the young legal interns in the gallery suddenly realized he didn’t have his backpack and went to retrieve it.
     I am sure that young man, one of many college students serving internships with either the district attorney or public defender this summer, got a lecture or two from sheriff’s officials and I’m sure was a bit embarrassed by his mistake. What a way to begin your summer internship.
     Lesson to all interns this summer: DON’T LEAVE YOUR BACKPACKS UNATTENDED IN COURTHOUSE HALLWAYS!

     When the trial got back on track, and every day thereafter, Assistant District Attorney Brianna Ringwood and defense lawyer R. Emmett Madden ferociously presented their cases to the jurors each day and often challenged and interrupted each other with “Objection!” during their questioning of witnesses.
     While Ringwood and Madden were staunch competitors it was obvious it wasn’t personal and the two enjoyed some friendly banter during downtime at the trial and when the jury wasn’t present.
     “You two are going to miss each other over the weekend,” Judge O’Neill quipped out of earshot of jurors after he adjourned court on Friday, eliciting laughter from those in the courtroom who witnessed the intense, sometimes contentious legal wrangling all week.
     “We’re going to be texting each other,” Madden responded lightheartedly.
Judge Steven T. O'Neill

     Finally, the trial marked the end of the courthouse career of Judge O’Neill’s trusted court clerk Kevin Frankel, who left Monday after more than five years of clerking to begin his career as an attorney at law. Frankel, well known at the courthouse for his sense of humor and ever friendly demeanor, has landed a job with the firm Banks & Banks in Lafayette Hill, where he will practice real estate and business law.
     When he began working as a court clerk Frankel was a floater and worked with most of the judges in civil, family and criminal court. But since July 2013, Frankel worked exclusively as O’Neill’s court clerk, a full-time job while finishing his law degree at night.
     “It’s been a great experience watching cases unfold, watching justice be dispensed. I learned a ton,” Frankel told me. “The most exciting moment was getting verdicts.”
     All eyes were on Frankel last fall when he took the verdict from jurors who convicted Raghunandan Yandamuri, 28, of Upper Merion, of two counts of first-degree murder and sentenced him to death in connection with the Oct. 22, 2012, fatal stabbing of 61-year-old Satyavathi Venna and the suffocation of her 10-month-old granddaughter, Saanvi, in an Upper Merion apartment during a botched kidnapping attempt. It was the most high profile trial at the courthouse in recent memory and Frankel had a front row seat.
     “That was a big verdict,” Frankel recalled.
     Frankel said he’ll never forget all those he worked with over the years, adding “It’s a really good community and I’m definitely appreciative to be a part of this community, especially starting my legal career.”
     “Judge O’Neill is great to work for. He definitely cares about what he’s doing. The drug court he runs is very impressive and he’s making a change in Montgomery County,” Frankel said.
     O’Neill had some nice words for Frankel too.
     “He was a great asset to the court. He will be sorely missed and I wish him the best of luck in his new endeavor,” O’Neill said.
     Ginny Womelsdorf, O’Neill’s court reporter, said she will miss Frankel.
     “Kevin gave us comic relief, that’s what I’m going to miss the most,” Womelsdorf laughed. “Kevin was a part of our family, worked his way into our hearts and I’m going to miss him a lot. I’m proud of him.”
     Fellow court clerk Monica Pokorny, who previously worked in the Clerk of Courts Office, recalled Frankel was a member of the Clerk of Courts Coffee Club.
     “We got to chit chat every day. I will miss his positivity. He was always positive, funny and always in a good mood,” said Pokorny, who shadowed Frankel when she was learning the ropes of being a court clerk. “He was very efficient, no wasted time, he was right to the point.”
     Pokorny joked she also blamed Frankel for the minor earthquake that shook the Philly region and the courthouse several years ago.
     “I was sitting at my desk and my chair moved and I turned around and I expected to see Kevin,” said Pokorny, recalling Kevin loved to joke. “I thought that he was shaking my chair. Turns out it wasn’t Kevin, it was an earthquake. But I still blame him. It’s his fault.”


Best of luck, Kevin, in your legal career.

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