Friday, July 31, 2015


Gloria Woods, assistant supervisor for Court Clerks in Montgomery County, was beaming with pride this week after learning her daughter gave birth to a little girl, Hannah Leigh. 

It’s the first granddaughter for Woods, who also has two grandsons.

“She’s like my little princess. I waited for her for a long time,” said Woods, who previously worked as Judge Gary S. Silow’s court clerk.
Gloria Woods/Photo by Carl Hessler Jr.

Woods was seen this week proudly sharing photographs of little Hannah to her co-workers, who gushed over the cute baby photos. I’ll say one thing, little Hannah couldn’t want for a nicer “Nana.”

Hannah Leigh was born at 2:21 p.m. July 29 to the proud parents of Ashley and Sean Konzman and weighed 7 lbs 2 oz. and was 19 ½ inches long, according to Woods.
Hannah Leigh Konzman/Photo courtesy of Gloria Woods

So if you see Woods around the courthouse congratulate her on being a proud new grandmother.


Congratulations also go out to Nancy McFarland, 78, of Lower Providence, who retired recently from the county Clerk of Courts Office where she had been employed since 2000.

“It’s been very interesting. I didn’t have any legal experience or working in a lawyer’s office. This was my first time working anywhere in the courthouse,” McFarland said on her last day on the job. “The people I worked with were great. There are a lot of young people and I enjoyed being in their company. I enjoyed working here.”
“The courthouse is not any easy place to work because there’s a lot of stress in what you do and in what you’re handling and a lot to learn all the time. It’s interesting work,” McFarland added. “I’m going to miss the people I worked with.”

McFarland was often the first voice members of the public heard if they called the clerk’s office because most recently she manned the phone lines and took all incoming calls.

“A lot of times people that called were already stressed out or angry about something so some of my calls you had to really work with them,” McFarland recalled.
McFarland previously served as an elected supervisor in Lower Providence for 20 years. From 1965 to 2000, McFarland worked in the small machine shop that she and her late husband owned.

Linda Sulock, McFarland’s supervisor, said McFarland was “always a fun person to work with.”
“She was very personable and was very accommodating to the clients no matter how disgruntled they might have been on the phone. And Nancy always had a way of making something a little less stressful by adding one of her own little comments that would break the ice and people wouldn’t be quite as upset as they were when they first called,” Sulock said.

McFarland was known for telling co-workers many stories about traveling and living in the Norristown area.
About her future plans, McFarland laughed, “Well next week I’m going to sleep until I want to get up or until the dog gives me a kiss.”
Seriously, McFarland, who has 17 grandchildren, added, “I want to do things I didn’t have time to do. When you work five days a week it doesn’t leave much time to do big projects so I would like to do some big projects. And I’m a flea market junkie. I did flea markets for 10 years and enjoyed them and I would like to see if I could get back to doing a little bit of that too.”

As we were speaking in a courthouse hallway, numerous passersby hugged her and shouted, “Nancy, I’m going to miss you.”
“I’ll miss you too,” Nancy replied, her voice quivering a bit with emotion.

Nancy, I wish you much happiness and enjoyment in your retirement.

Friday, July 24, 2015

Wheels of Justice Spin for Charity

Congratulations go out to Montgomery County’s law enforcement community, riding with the district attorney’s “Wheels of Justice” team, who completed last Sunday’s annual 65-mile Irish Pub Tour De Shore charity ride, which honors police officers killed in the line of duty and benefits the children they left behind.

The team collectively raised more than $70,000 and won the John Timoney Award for the largest team and most fundraising.

District Attorney Risa Vetri Ferman and First Assistant District Attorney Kevin Steele even geared up and joined the team’s 250 members, composed of law enforcement officials from within the ranks of Ferman's office as well as local police departments and sheriff’s deputies, for the 28th annual event.

“I rode. This year was grueling. It was the hottest day in memory for me riding Tour De Shore. The heat was crushing,” Ferman told me. “For most of the ride, I was not just drinking water but pouring water over my head as I rode. I doused myself with water and within a few moments it would be dry. It was just sweltering hot.”
GEARED UP Montco First Asst. DA Kevin Steele & DA Risa Vetri Ferman/Photo courtesy of Risa Ferman

Ferman completed the ride in just over five hours.
“Not too shabby in that heat for an old broad like me,” joked Ferman, who turned 50 this year.

The road trip, Ferman said, was also the most crowded she had ever seen. This year, more than 2,300 cyclists participated in the event.
“Sometimes the conditions on the roadway were not ideal. People were falling and getting injured. During the course of the ride we heard ambulances. Notwithstanding all of that, it was the best time that I ever had,” Ferman said.
READY TO GO! Montco DA Risa Vetri Ferman/Photo courtesy of Risa Ferman

“There is such a sense of camaraderie and fellowship at this event. We all ride on different teams and certainly there’s a great deal of competition among the teams in the buildup to the ride. But on the day of, we are truly one team united in support of our first responders who put their lives on the line for us every day,” Ferman added.

The bike ride from Philadelphia to Atlantic City benefits the Irish Pub Children's Foundation, a nonprofit organization dedicated to raising funds for Delaware Valley-based, children-oriented charitable endeavors. With record turnout the foundation surpassed its $800,000 fundraising goal for 2015. The Irish Pub Children’s Foundation has raised more than $5 million since its inception, according to officials.
AFTER THE RIDE A FAN CAME IN HANDY/Photo Courtesy of Risa Ferman

This marked the seventh year that the Wheels of Justice team participated in the event. To date, the team has helped raise more than $335,000 for the charity over the course of the seven years.

Wheels of Justice Team/Photo Courtesy of Risa Vetri Ferman
“I’m very proud to be from Montgomery County when we go down to Atlantic City for this ride. Montgomery County’s presence is very well known and visible,” Ferman said.

The Wheels of Justice team, along with its sister team, Team G-Riders, represent all facets of the Montgomery County criminal justice system, including the District Attorney’s Office, the Public Defender’s Office, the Sheriff’s Department, county Public Safety Department, local police departments and local defense lawyers, judges and friends and families of law enforcement.

“We ride in honor of many heroes, but the ride has taken on a very special meaning since Montgomery County lost Plymouth Township Police Officer Brad Fox in 2012,” Ferman said. “We ride in Brad’s memory in honor of our fallen hero and we ride to honor the service and sacrifice of all our first responders who put their lives on the line every single day so that the rest of us can be safe.”
Photo Courtesy of Risa Vetri Ferman

The event was created in 1987 when Cathy Burke and Mark O’Connor, owners of the Irish Pub, were looking for ways to give back to the community and bridge the gap between the Irish pubs in Philadelphia and Atlantic City.

“Twenty-eight years ago, this ride started out with 20 riders and has now exceeded our wildest expectations,” said O’Connor, president of the Irish Pub Children’s Foundation. “What was once a casual ride of 20 has now become a can’t-miss Delaware Valley event every summer.”

Wednesday, July 22, 2015

Facebook Posts Derail Case; Kudos to Montco Prosecutor for Talking About It

I have often heard prosecutors say to juries that they don’t choose their witnesses, urging jurors not to hold it against them for parading drug users and dealers, prostitutes or jailhouse snitches into court as witnesses in cases at trial. Often, intrepid defense lawyers will attack the credibility and reliability of prosecution witnesses who have some baggage in their backgrounds, trying to convince jurors not to trust the testimony.
This week, spectators observing the trial of a Lower Pottsgrove teenager accused of luring a West Pottsgrove teen to a car to be robbed learned how quickly a prosecutor’s case can go south when the star witness’ Facebook posts came back to haunt him and essentially derailed the prosecutor’s case.

The 19-year-old alleged victim initially testified he never smoked marijuana or sold it.
But not 10 minutes later, when defense lawyer Douglas Breidenbach Jr. cross-examined the young man, he admitted to making posts to his Facebook account that appeared to express his fascination with pot.

One by one, photograph by photograph, Breidenbach confronted the alleged robbery victim with copies of his Facebook shenanigans, which included photos of a marijuana cigarette, photos of him bearing a Nazi symbol etched on his hand and smoking with captions such as “I’m so high” and “Let’s get baked,” and even references claiming he was known as “Kush Man.”
“Kush” is street slang for high grade marijuana. The young man tried to convince the courtroom, “Kush is just a word, it has a lot of meanings.”

The alleged victim also posted on his Facebook page a disrespectful cartoon caricature depicting President Obama, presumably smoking weed, according to testimony. Breidenbach asked the young man, “Is it because you’re a fan of President Obama or a fan of marijuana?”
The 19-year-old replied, “I see nothing wrong with that.”

Well, turns out there was something wrong with his testimony and some jurors appeared less than interested in anything else the young man had to say. Revelations concerning his Facebook posts essentially destroyed his credibility.

Assistant District Attorney Benjamin McKenna, after the alleged victim completed his testimony, moved to dismiss the charges against the 17-year-old who was accused of helping to set up the alleged robbery.
“It was a case that hinged overwhelmingly on the credibility of the victim and when you get caught the way he got caught…and if he looks like a liar then the case fails. It’s our office’s belief that you don’t go forward on charges you can’t prove and I couldn’t prove the charges,” McKenna said candidly to a reporter afterward.

“Mr. McKenna, who I know to be very competent, was stuck with one of the world’s worst witnesses,” Breidenbach summed it up.
Montgomery County Judge Garrett Page/Photo by Carl Hessler Jr.

In court, Judge Garrett D. Page said, “Justice works in different ways. I give credit to the commonwealth to the extent they weighed their efforts.”

Kudos to McKenna for later discussing with the press his decision, which, I am sure, was difficult to swallow, but which seemed inevitable to all spectators after what the witness testified to in court. McKenna was professional and forthright, and didn't shun this reporter, not like some lawyers I’ve seen dash from court after a legal blow and disappear faster than free coffee at the courthouse cafeteria.

Later, I talked to seasoned prosecutor District Attorney Risa Vetri Ferman about the challenge a prosecutor faces when a case unravels.
“I am immensely proud of the way he handled himself in the course of this case,” Ferman said about McKenna. “He was faced with a challenging situation. He was faced very clearly with the fact that his main witness had lied and he knew instinctively that we don’t rely upon liars and knew that the right thing to do in that case was to dismiss the charges and that’s what he did.”
Montco DA Risa Vetri Ferman/Photo by Carl Hessler Jr.

“Justice comes in many forms. Certainly there are times when justice is seeking a conviction and obtaining a conviction. But we can only do justice when we are willing to stand up and have the courage to do what is right and withdraw charges when it’s appropriate. And in that particular case, justice demanded that we withdraw the charges and that’s what this young assistant DA did. I could not be more proud of him,” Ferman added.

Breidenbach, well-known as a tenacious Pottstown area criminal defense lawyer, and his client were pleased with the outcome. Breidenbach said, “We think it’s the right result because we think it was a manufactured story in the first place.”

Breidenbach argued during his opening statement to jurors that the alleged victim gave inconsistent statements and that his testimony was not reliable or credible and that jurors would be left doubting that the robbery even occurred. Uncovering the supposed victim's Facebook posts, Breidenbach had done his homework and brought about one of those rare "ah ha" courtroom moments.
“If the jury doesn’t believe him (the alleged victim) there’s no case,” Breidenbach said.
After the alleged victim’s testimony, I’ll bet some jurors felt that way.

The alleged victim left the courthouse abruptly after wrapping up his testimony.

I’ll never understand one’s fascination for posting offensive tidbits or revealing everything about themselves on Facebook and other social media sites.

NOTE TO FACEBOOK USERS – Be careful what you post. You never know when it will come back to bite you. 

Tuesday, July 21, 2015

Embattled Montco Lawyer Unrecognizable In Court

    Disbarred after 29 years as a criminal defense lawyer, Gregory Noonan, who is serving a state prison sentence for drug dealing, was back in Montgomery County Court this week fighting to keep prosecutors from snatching $8,000 that investigators seized from his Towamencin home during the 2013 drug investigation.
Montgomery County Courthouse/Photo by Carl Hessler Jr.

    Noonan’s return to a courtroom created quite a stir as former colleagues were shocked by his appearance. Now sporting long, gray hair and a gray beard and appearing a bit heavier, Noonan, once a widely-known lawyer in Montgomery County legal circles whose office was in Norristown, was unrecognizable to some as he stood in court wearing his blue prison uniform.
    “Oh my God, is that Greg Noonan?” one lawyer said as he entered the courtroom where Noonan was appearing."I can't believe it."
    “I would never have known it was Greg Noonan, never,” another former colleague said, adding the whole situation was “sad.”
    I too was amazed at how drastically Noonan’s appearance has changed since he’s been incarcerated.
Lawyer Gregory Noonan at work in Nov. 2013/Photo by Carl Hessler Jr.
State prison inmate Gregory Noonan July 2015/Photo by Carl Hessler Jr.
Gregory Noonan leaves court for return to prison/Photo by Carl Hessler Jr.
    During the forfeiture hearing, Noonan, 54, who is serving a five-to 15-year prison term for selling oxycodone to an undercover detective on two occasions between November and December 2013, implied the $8,000 found in a drawer of his home represented his personal savings. But Assistant District Attorney Laura Adshead argued the money represents the proceeds of Noonan’s drug activity and should be forfeited to county detectives.
   But John Walfish, Noonan’s former law partner, believes the money was withdrawn by Noonan from the law firm’s accounts and should be turned over to him.

    Judge Wendy Demchick-Alloy took the matter under advisement and will decide where the money goes at a later date. Stay tuned.

Wednesday, July 15, 2015

Ferman Elected President of Pennsylvania District Attorneys Association

Montco DA Risa Vetri Ferman/Photo by Carl Hessler Jr.
Congratulations go out to Montgomery County District Attorney Risa Vetri Ferman, the county’s top law enforcer who will now lead the professional association that provides training for prosecutors and information on legal and legislative issues.
   Ferman was elected by her peers this week to the post of president of the Pennsylvania District Attorneys Association for the 2015-16 business year. Ferman’s election took place during the association’s annual business meeting in Harrisburg.
    During the annual meeting, Lebanon County District Attorney David Arnold was elected vice-president of the association while Philadelphia District Attorney Seth Williams was elected secretary-treasurer for 2015-16.
    Ferman, previously vice-president of the association, said she was honored to be elected by her colleagues as president.
    “As a prosecutor for over two decades, I have dedicated my career to ensuring the fairness and integrity of the criminal justice system, to developing and implementing the best investigative and prosecutorial practices, and to the protection of all crime victims. I am honored that my colleagues chose me to serve in this important leadership role of our association,” Ferman said.
    “My fellow district attorneys and I believe in the criminal justice system and the ethical standards our oath demands.  I look forward to working with my colleagues on legislative and law enforcement issues in order to ensure that our system – and all those it is meant to protect – is the best it can be and reflects the times we live in,” Ferman added.
Montco DA Risa Vetri Ferman/Photo by Carl Hessler Jr.
    Ferman will serve as president of the association at least until January when her term as county district attorney comes to an end. Earlier this year, Ferman announced she will not seek a third term as district attorney, instead setting her sights on a seat on the county bench. In November, three new county judges will be elected.
    “I think, fundamentally, the reason I made the decision is I need a new challenge. I love this place, I love the Montgomery County law enforcement community and I love the work that I do every day. But after 23 years on a job, and I’m turning 50 this year, I realize that I was looking for a change, looking for something new, looking for a new challenge, or a new adventure,” Ferman said earlier this year, explaining her decision to campaign for judge.
    Ferman will face fellow Republicans Stephen Heckman and Gregory Cirillo and Democrats Natasha Taylor-Smith, Todd Eisenberg and Dan Clifford during the election for the three judicial posts.
Montgomery County Courthouse/Photo by Carl Hessler Jr.
The Pennsylvania District Attorneys Association has a long history of identifying reforms of the criminal justice system and establishing best practices for prosecutors statewide.
    In a press release, association officials said the PDAA successfully led efforts to: reform Pennsylvania's child protection laws; establish historic, first-time state funding for children's advocacy centers; create a statewide prescription drug return and disposal program to help fight prescription drug abuse; and administer the distribution of life-saving naloxone to municipal police departments.
    The Pennsylvania District Attorneys Association is comprised of approximately 1,000 members and is charged with providing uniformity and efficiency in the discharge of duties and functions of Pennsylvania’s 67 district attorneys and their assistants. Founded in 1912, the association sponsors extensive training programs and reports legal and legislative developments of importance to Pennsylvania prosecutors.
Montco DA Risa Vetri Ferman/Photo by Carl Hessler Jr.
Ferman, a Republican and career prosecutor who spent 15 years climbing the ranks in the district attorney’s office, was elected the county’s first female district attorney in 2007. In 2011, Ferman was re-elected to serve a second term.
    Ferman began her career with the district attorney’s office in January 1993 and cut her prosecutorial teeth in the pre-trials division, ran the sex crimes unit, oversaw homicide, wiretap and grand jury investigations and supervised the trials division as a deputy district attorney before being appointed second in command by former District Attorney Bruce L. Castor Jr. in 2002.
   A 1983 graduate of Abington High School, Ferman received a bachelor’s degree in history from the University of Pennsylvania in 1987 and graduated from Widener University School of Law in 1992.
   Ferman was an intern with the U.S. Attorney’s Office in 1991.
   Ferman, who lives in Abington, also is a founder of the Montgomery Child Advocacy Project, which provides pro bono legal representation for children who are victims or witnesses of abuse. She also helped lead the effort to open “Mission Kids,” a non-profit child advocacy center for abused children.  
    In 2011, Ferman wrote a children’s book called “The Mouse Who Went Surfing Alone,” designed to introduce concepts of internet safety to young children. 

Tuesday, July 14, 2015

Combating Heroin: State Parole Offices Now Equipped with Life-Saving Naloxone

    Naloxone has been in the news a lot lately. During the last several weeks, Upper Providence Police Chief Mark Toomey recognized officers for administering naloxone, which counters the effects of opioids, and saving several lives.

    Sgt. Robert Solorio and Officer Scott Reynolds were recently commended for administering naloxone at a Collegeville restaurant where a man was experiencing a heroin overdose. Officer Andrew Parkins and Cpl. Jason Gerhart previously were recognized for administering naloxone to a woman experiencing an opioid overdose in a Mont Clare apartment and Officer Shea Johnson was recognized for administering naloxone to save a man overdosing on heroin in Oaks, according to reports in The Mercury.
    Naloxone, also known by brand names “Narcan” or “Evzio,” is a prescription medicine that rapidly reverses heroin and other opioid overdoses.

    Local police departments and prosecutors appear to be doing everything they can to attack the scourge of heroin and opioid abuse, including carrying naloxone, sponsoring prescription drug take-back programs, and prosecuting so-called “pill mill” doctors who over-prescribe or illegally distribute medications that lead to addictions. Officials have said people often become addicted to powerful painkillers that are prescribed and then go looking for a cheaper alternative, such as heroin, when they can no longer obtain the prescription or it becomes too expensive.
    In recent weeks, Gov. Tom Wolf announced state police would soon be equipped with the life-saving drug, naloxone.

    Now comes word from Pennsylvania Board of Probation and Parole Acting Chairman John R. Tuttle that all board offices have been supplied with the life-saving opioid overdose reversal antidote and all field supervision staff have been trained in the administration of the important anti-overdose drug.
    “Our agents supervise offenders with heroin and other addictions and at times may encounter an emergency situation with a parolee,” said Tuttle. “The availability of this prescription drug equips our agents to potentially save a life.”

    A naloxone kit is now available in each board office across the state, officials said in a news release. Agents who are part of the Board’s Fugitive Apprehension Search Team (FAST) and the Street Crimes Units are mandated to carry the life-saving drug.
    “Our FAST and Street Crimes Units work in tandem with law enforcement and may be first on the scene of an overdose,” Tuttle said. “Agents who have heroin addicts on their caseload may choose to carry the drug, and, importantly, they can educate family members about this important lifesaving resource that is available in their community.”

    Heroin and opioid overdose are the leading cause of accidental death in Pennsylvania, killing more individuals than those involved in fatal motor vehicle accidents, according to the news release issued by the Pennsylvania Board of Probation and Parole. In 2013, approximately 2,400 Pennsylvanians died from a drug overdose, officials said.
    According to a September 2014 report from the Center for Rural Pennsylvania — a bipartisan legislative agency of the Pennsylvania General Assembly that advocates for the state’s rural and small communities — overdose deaths from heroin and other opioids, including prescription painkillers, in Pennsylvania have increased by 470 percent over the past two decades, and that throughout the past five years, such overdoses have claimed the lives of nearly 3,000 Pennsylvanians.
    Additionally, the report stated, more adult Pennsylvanians age 20 to 44 are dying annually from overdoses than motor vehicle accidents, and an estimated 34,000 youngsters between the ages of 12 and 17 are trying heroin for the first time each year as the price of the drug declines and its availability increases.

    In November 2014, Act 139 or “David’s Law,” a measure named for Upper Chichester resident David Massi, who died of a heroin overdose, took effect and made naloxone available to law enforcement, first responders, family members, friends or other persons in a position to assist an individual at risk of experiencing an opioid-related overdose.

Kudos to the Pennsylvania Board of Probation and Parole for being the latest agency to implement a program that will likely save more lives.

Thursday, July 9, 2015

Remembering George R. Boynes, "a true gentleman"

     A distinctive, friendly voice was noticeably absent from the courtrooms and hallways of the Montgomery County Courthouse in recent weeks.
     But that deep, smooth, tone of George R. Boynes still lingered in the memories of fellow courthouse workers saddened to learn that the 72-year-old popular and gracious court crier died July 2 at his Norristown home.
George R. Boynes/Photo by Carl Hessler Jr.

    “George was a true gentleman who exuded confidence every step he took,” said Judge Steven C. Tolliver Sr., who met Boynes in December 2013 while interviewing prospective criers for his courtroom. “He was a great personal crier who I will miss greatly.”
    Tolliver said upon meeting Boynes he immediately thought Boynes exhibited “a demeanor and stately qualities” much like actor Morgan Freeman portrayed as Batman’s confidant in “Dark Knight” and as the sergeant in “Glory.”
    “I feel privileged to have known George. I was extremely fortunate to have him assist me in keeping courtroom decorum.  It was easy with George’s command of the courtroom. Litigants respected George at the very first moment they entered the courtroom.”

That voice, it commanded attention when as a crier Boynes announced Tolliver’s arrival on the bench.
    “He was very commanding with that deep voice,” said court clerk Monica Pokorny, lowering her own voice to make her point. “No one asked any questions when George was talking. When he started with that voice you could hear a pin drop. He commanded attention.”

That voice led some to refer to Boynes as “Smooth Jazz.”
    “Tall and handsome,” said Irene Grozinski, adding Boynes reminded her of a crooner with an R&B band.
    “He sounded like one of the Commodores with that deep voice. He could hit a really low note,” said Grozinski, a Clerk of Courts staffer. “He was a very kind man. We loved him.”

    Linda Adornetto, a clerk in the district attorney’s office, recalled a common exchange she had with Boynes and his wife, Mary, who works in Clerk of Courts.
    “I would tell her that George’s voice reminded me of Barry White,” Adornetto smiled. “Of course Mary would give one of her quick comebacks and say, ‘I wish he was. I’d be rich!’ Ahh, the memories."

That voice, John Salamone said, was “the disc jockey voice.”
    “George was always straightforward and he had a very dry sense of humor. He was always polite and a no-nonsense kind of guy,” Salamone, a court file clerk, remembered, adding Boynes, like clockwork, always checked on his wife at lunchtime. “To kind of make sure things were good with her.”
    Grozinski said Boynes embraced family and was dedicated to his wife.
    “They loved each other very much,” Grozinski said.
    At the end of a work day, Salamone recalled, he would wish Boynes a “good night.”
    “He would always say, ‘If God willing.’ That was his favorite ending statement,” said Salamone, recalling now poignant moments.

Others recalled George’s gentle nature, his calm demeanor.
    “What can I say about George....he was a wonderful man, a true gentleman in every sense of the word,” said Meg McMullen, who also works in Clerk of Courts. “He was a devoted husband to Mary.  He and Mary are good people.  You couldn't find a nicer, kinder man anywhere. I will never forget how mild and kind he always was.  He will not be forgotten.”
George R. Boynes, "sharp dresser"

    Rosemarie Durante recalled Boynes as a “sharp dresser” and someone who always acknowledged the love he had for his wife.
    “George was a kind man. He always had something nice to say all the time. I think everyone loved George. He always looked like ‘GQ,’ right out of a magazine. I’d say, ‘George I love your tie and your shirt and everything matches so perfectly.’
    “I’d ask him if he picked that out. He’d say, ‘Mary put me together. Go thank Mary,’” Durante smiled. “He loved his wife.”

    Boynes, a graduate of Norristown High School who served 32 years in the U.S. Air Force, was always impeccably dressed, usually wearing a brightly colored shirt and matching tie each day. He was a fixture at the courthouse, working as a tipstaff for many years before becoming Tolliver’s crier.
    “He was big on being efficient. He was big on making sure the courts, as well as the judge, had everything that they needed. He was very gracious and polite and just a wonderful person to be around,” said Kim White, supervisor of court clerks.  “George was somewhat of a serious person but he also laughed and joked after his work was done. He believed in getting the job done while court was in session but afterwards George was a joy to be around. He was great for telling stories and making others laugh.”

On a personal note, I will remember Boynes for his quiet strength. I never heard him complain as he waged a fight against illness in recent weeks and illness didn’t seem to bruise his spirit while he was at work. He was dedicated to his work and I think he captured the hearts of all of those fortunate enough to pass his way in these courthouse hallways on a daily basis. He collected friends easily and he was always kind to me and I enjoyed our daily conversations. Yes, George was "a true gentleman."

One of my last memories of Boynes is his being by Mary’s side in May during a public courthouse ceremony at which she was presented a courthouse employee of the year award by Montgomery Bar Association. I remember Boynes beaming with pride, flashing one smile after another.
George and Mary Boynes/May 1, 2015 Photo by Carl Hessler Jr.

    While his voice has been silenced in death, his kindness and graciousness will continue to live on in the hearts of all who knew him.
    In the wake of his absence, I urge you all to celebrate George’s life with a memory or two today and bid him safe passage. His courthouse family will never forget him.

Rest in peace, George. You will be missed.

Tuesday, July 7, 2015

Montco DUI Court Prosecutors Arm Themselves with the Latest Science

As Montgomery County prosecutors work to get drunken drivers before a judge quicker and repeat offenders off the roads faster through the county’s new DUI Court, they’re learning all they can about the science behind blood-alcohol testing.
Montgomery County Courthouse

In addition to spending weekends monitoring and observing DUI checkpoints in the county, a group of DUI prosecutors last week toured NMS Labs, a nationally renowned clinical and forensic toxicology laboratory located along Welsh Road in Willow Grove. The lab provides diagnostic toxicology services for law enforcement, lawyers and medical examiners and is utilized by county prosecutors in cases heading into DUI Court.

“We put them on (in court) so much and we deal with them by email and phone that we decided it would be a good idea to go out there and spend some time with them,” said Assistant District Attorney Bradford Richman, who leads the district attorney’s DUI prosecution unit. “We heard from a number of their toxicologists and expert services representatives who were the ones who get us the various reports.

Montgomery County Assistant District Attorney Bradford Richman at NMS Labs/Photo courtesy of Brad Richman
“It was a very productive day. We learned a lot hearing from these various experts. We got a chance to tour their laboratories, which gives us a good understanding of how the process works and how their chain of custody works and how the pieces of equipment work,” Richman added.

“It was a great day for the unit. I think we all learned a lot. The prosecutors assigned to the unit were right in there down in the lab, asking questions about science and how the science works,” Richman said.
Montco DUI Court prosecutors meet NMS Labs representative Reynold Dyson (on right) during a tour of Willow Grove facility./Photo courtesy of Bradford Richman

Richman said it was good too for NMS officials to be able to meet prosecutors, “to put names with faces.”

“They wanted to hear from us too. We live in separate worlds. They’re in the science world and we’re in the criminal courts,” said Richman, explaining prosecutors explained to NMS officials how the DUI unit is set up and how it works.
Montco Prosecutor Douglas Lavenberg (in foreground) has some questions for NMS Labs representative Reynold Dyson/Photo Courtesy of Bradford Richman

Spearheaded by District Attorney Risa Vetri Ferman, the county’s DUI Court was implemented in January 2014 after several years of discussions with the county judiciary.
The new way of handling DUI cases developed as court officials looked for ways to track and expedite DUI cases, which historically comprise nearly one quarter of the county’s total criminal court caseload, and to protect society from habitual offenders and to obtain consistency in punishments.

Kudos to Richman for arranging the educational trips for his staff of young prosecutors in the DUI Unit. I’m sure that observing DUI checkpoints and learning about the science of blood-alcohol testing can only make prosecutors better at their jobs and give them the necessary tools to prosecute cases fairly and accurately.

Monday, July 6, 2015

Montco Officials at the Forefront of History and Cultural Change

Montgomery County Courthouse/file photo by Carl Hessler Jr.

Hope everyone had a happy Fourth of July holiday, or if you prefer, Independence Day!

As local residents celebrated all the cherished freedoms they have, it must be noted that just 10 days ago, in a landmark ruling, the U.S. Supreme Court voted 5-4 to legalize same-sex marriage in all 50 states, a freedom sought by same-sex couples for many years. It should be pointed out that Montgomery County played a pivotal role in the national debate on the issue and that the county made state history early on in the debate.

In July 2013, Montgomery County was ground zero for the same-sex marriage debate when D. Bruce Hanes, the register of wills in the state’s third-largest county, issued the state’s first same-sex marriage licenses to Loreen Bloodgood and Alicia Terlizzi of Limerick. At the time, Hanes said he wanted to come down “on the right side of history and the law.”
Montco Register of Wills D. Bruce Hanes/Times Herald Photo by Gene Walsh

At that time, Pennsylvania law defined a marriage as a civil contract between a man and a woman and did not recognize civil unions or same-sex marriages from other states.

Hanes’ decision came shortly after the U.S. Supreme Court struck down the section of the federal Defense of Marriage Act that failed to guarantee equal benefits to same sex couples.

Hanes’ decision sparked peaceful protests by members of the Pro-Life Coalition of Pa. who showed up at Hanes’ office, holding rosaries and signs reading “Children Need a Mom and Dad,” to pray as same-sex couples obtained marriage licenses. To his credit, a respectful Hanes didn't interrupt the protesters and likewise didn’t let them interrupt him from carrying out the business of his office.

“There’s always going to be protests. They have a right to be here just as much as we have a right to be here. You know what, they can’t hurt me,” Sander Schlichter told me as he and his partner Charles Burrus, of Penn Valley, appeared at Hanes’ office to obtain a marriage license that day.
Sander Schlichter & Charles Burrus/Mercury photo by Carl Hessler Jr.

In the weeks that followed, supporters of Hanes held a marriage equality rally on the steps of the courthouse, ground zero again in a state and national debate.

A legal hotbed ensued when the state Department of Health sued Hanes to stop issuing the licenses. At one point, Hanes ceased issuing the licenses when a state judge ruled he didn’t have the legal authority to do so and while an appeal to the state Supreme Court was filed. Between July and September 2013 Hanes’ office had issued more than 170 marriage licenses to same-sex couples.

But by May 2014, U.S. District Judge John E. Jones III ruled that Pennsylvania’s DOMA law was unconstitutional. The state Supreme Court subsequently lifted the ban that prevented Hanes from issuing the same-sex marriage licenses.

While it was local, Hanes’ decision forced him into the national spotlight. I remember being at the health club and seeing Hanes’ face on the big screen TV overhead, being interviewed on a national, evening newscast.

“It’s not and it never was about me, I’m not a crusader,” Hanes told The Mercury last week after the historic U.S. Supreme Court ruling was announced. “This was always about equal protection under the law and due process.”

The June 26 high court ruling prompted county Commissioner Chairman Josh Shapiro to shout, “Love is the law! Today’s ruling marks a great step forward for our democracy and our gay friends and family.”

It’s difficult to gauge if Hanes moved national or local public opinion about the issue. But whether you agree with the ruling or not, Hanes’ role in the debate made history in Montgomery County and put the county in the national spotlight for a brief period of time.

Last week, Bloodgood told The Mercury, “I knew the winds of change were blowing in our direction, but it has been like hurricane-force winds changing everything. Just think, it was not even two years ago now that the Supreme Court ruled on the Defense of Marriage Act and Bruce Hanes decided he would start issuing marriage licenses to same-sex couples and now it’s the law of the land."

Bloodgood added, prophetically, “I think it’s ironic that while the Confederate flag is falling, the flag of pride is rising.”
A man supports Hanes' decision outside courthouse in July 2013/ Mercury Photo by Carl Hessler Jr.
Social media went bonkers when the ruling came down, with tweets from supporters and detractors alike about the new freedom.

I think a colleague, @Smoore1117 sarcastically tweeted it best when he wrote, “Woke up this morning, looked a @armoore815 & decided our traditional marriage is irrevocably damaged. Gay marriage is ruining everything.”

In the high court’s 5-4 ruling, Justice Anthony Kennedy wrote,” No longer may this liberty be denied…No union is more profound than marriage.” Kennedy, who was joined by the court’s four more liberal justices, Breyer, Ginsburg, Kagan and Sotomayer, added those who sought the right to marry revealed “that they seek not to denigrate marriage but rather to live their lives, or honor their spouses’ memories, joined by its bond.”

Several religious organizations have criticized the decision. Sam Rohrer, a former Berks state legislator and onetime candidate for governor, issued a statement on behalf of the American Pastors’ Network, saying “this landmark decision had deep biblical, historical and constitutional roots, and unfortunately, our justices chose to redefine marriage for the entire nation, ignoring other constitutional rights and opening the door to a dangerous infringement on religious liberties.”

But the high court’s ruling ensures that constitutional protections will continue to allow churches to decide who they will marry.  So, I don't know what all the religious fuss is about.

Personally, I never understood how anyone could be against love.  So, I am glad my gay and lesbian family and friends have this new freedom.

For someone who covers the courts on a daily basis, it was interesting to have a front row seat to the legal battles and protests that brewed in Montgomery County during the last two years. For a brief period of time, county officials stood at the forefront of history and cultural change.