Tuesday, January 26, 2016

Retiring Judges Receive Well-Deserved Recognition

There were many poignant moments during three ceremonies this month as the three new judges in Montgomery County took their oaths of office. Heartwarming speeches were provided by the family and friends of Judges Risa Vetri Ferman, Daniel Clifford and Todd D. Eisenberg as the new judges officially donned their black robes for the first time.
Montgomery County Courthouse

But the most poignant moment, I believe, came when President Judge William J. Furber Jr. took the time to recognize the accomplishments of three judges who retired at the end of 2015, Judge Stanley R. Ott, Judge Bernard A. Moore and Judge Joseph A. Smyth Jr.

“Ladies and gentleman,” Furber addressed the crowd, “the investiture of new judges is always an exhilarating time for the court because it engenders an invigorating spirit and energizes the bench by virtue of an influx of fresh ideas from our new colleagues, which in turn tends to promote experimentation with new methods.”

“This dynamic creates opportunities to improve how justice is administered in a timely and transparent fashion. This natural progression is vital to the preservation of our system,” Furber continued.

“Although we welcome innovation and new blood I would like to take a moment this morning to acknowledge three of our colleagues whose most recent retirements graciously created the three vacancies which our newest members have filled,” Furber added.

“The legacies of these three men have created over almost three decades of devotion to the law and to the Bar and to the court and to the public. Their legacies are immeasurable. I speak, of course, of Judges Ott, Smyth and Moore,” said Furber, inviting the three respected jurists to rise from their seats at the bench.

The crowd of 250 or so spectators erupted into thunderous applause and a standing ovation, delivering respect and gratitude for the three jurists who smiled humbly. The recognition was well-deserved.

Smyth, who served as county district attorney from 1979 to 1984, was appointed to the bench in May 1984 by then Gov. Dick Thornburgh and he was elected to a full 10-year term in 1985. Smyth, a graduate of Temple University School of Law, was retained in 1995 and 2005, and he previously served as president judge.

Moore, a former assistant district attorney from 1970 to 1975, was elected to the bench for a 10-year term in 1989. A graduate of Temple University School of Law, Moore won retention elections in 1999 and 2009.

Ott, a graduate of Cornell University Law School, was elected to the bench in November 1987. He was retained in 1997 and 2007 and served as the administrative judge of the Orphans’ Court division.

Thank you, judges, for your service.

Monday, January 25, 2016

Kim White Bids Good-bye to her County Family

Montgomery County Courthouse/Photo Carl Hessler Jr.
After 27 years working for the Montgomery County court system, Kim White has said good-by to her county family.

White has seen a lot of courthouse changes during that time.

White, of Downingtown, began her career in 1989 as an unassigned court clerk, at a time when such clerks were paid on a per diem basis and received no benefits. That all changed around 1993, when county officials approved benefits packages for court clerks, who assist judges in the courtrooms on a full-time basis.

In 1994, White said she was “blessed” to be asked by then Judge Bernard A. Moore to sit as his assigned court clerk. For most of those years, Moore presided in Courtroom A, the ceremonial courtroom at the courthouse.

“I clerked for Judge Moore for 13 years. Working for Judge Moore was the best. He’s such a funny man behind the scenes. He’s a very contemporary man. He’s very private. But behind the scenes he’s a very, very nice person and very funny,” White said. “I enjoyed my time working every minute for Judge Moore. I was very blessed to have worked for Judge Moore.”
Kim White / Mercury Photo by Carl Hessler Jr.

Moore also retired Jan. 1.

“We both retired the same year. Who would have thought that?” White said.

In 2008, White was promoted to court clerk supervisor. There are 31 court clerks employed by the county and one sentencing guidelines clerk who were under White’s direction.

“I’m the type of person who likes to pass my knowledge on. I like other people to learn from my accomplishments and from what I have to offer,” White said. “It was a challenging experience. I enjoyed teaching, watching them develop. It helped me to become a manager.”

White said she will miss the employees and the job. But she's looking forward to her free time.

Kim White /Mercury Photo by Carl Hessler Jr.
“I would like to spend time with my family and I want to have fun while I’m young,” said White, who laughed when she said she wouldn’t reveal her age but added after 27 years with the county she was eligible to retire.

Everyone at the courthouse wishes Kim a happy and fun-filled retirement.

Tuesday, January 12, 2016

The Mystery Continues

While conducting my end of day checks of courtrooms late Tuesday afternoon, I suddenly heard thunderous applause coming from Courtroom A, the ceremonial courtroom at the courthouse. My interest aroused, I just had to investigate.
Montgomery County Courthouse/Photo by Carl Hessler Jr.

Officials invited me to peek in.

Turns out newly-elected Montgomery County District Attorney Kevin R. Steele was holding court, so-to-speak, proudly, passionately and warmly addressing his entire staff of prosecutors and detectives and some members of the law enforcement community, during what felt a bit like a pep rally. A few county officials and judges also were present at the informal gathering.

“It’s important for us to do this together, to dedicate to this together,” Steele urged the 150 or so staffers who packed the ceremonial courtroom. “The people of our community expect a lot from us. They expect us to be ministers of justice. I expect a lot from all of you.

“I’m not going to be easy on you but I will have your backs because we’re all in this together,” added Steele, telling all those in attendance that he looks forward to working with them. “We have an incredible opportunity to make a difference in people’s lives.”

Montgomery County DA Kevin R. Steele
Steele, the Lower Merion Democrat who won the post in November’s election after spending eight years as first assistant district attorney, told his staff that being ministers of justice comes with sacrifices.

“There are sacrifices and no one knows that better than my family,” Steele said to the standing-room-only crowd, urging his staff to have courage and to strive to do the right thing.

During the gathering, President Judge William J. Furber Jr. administered oaths of office to the entire staff of prosecutors and county detectives.

“Kevin, I wish you all the best as you go forward with this most important endeavor,” Furber said as the event came to a close.

Quoting from the “Star Wars” film he just saw over the weekend, Steele told his prosecutors, “’May the force be with you’ and let’s go do a great job.”

I, and I think everyone else in the room, was secretly wondering if Steele was going to make the “BIG” announcement, that being who he had selected as his first assistant, the second-in-command in his office, the district attorney’s go-to person.  
But it was not to be.

And so the mystery continues.

In recent history, incoming county district attorneys have had their first assistants in place on their first day in office. But as of Tuesday, the district attorney’s official letterhead still has only Steele’s name there. Steele appears to be keeping this decision close to the vest for now.

Since the New Year began, I’ve been asked on a daily basis by judges, lawyers and courthouse staff as to whether Steele has named his first assistant. It’s the number one inquiry folks are making as I make my daily rounds in the halls of justice. It’s unbelievable the amount of interest that’s swirling around the courthouse regarding that one decision.

Naturally, rumors abound, and there have been plenty. It’s the best kept secret, that’s for sure.

So, as I posted last week on Twitter, we’re still #WAITING

Stay tuned.