Archive for the ‘Courts’ category

Commerce Court Changes Official

August 13, 2008

It’s official: Judge Howland W. Abramson and Judge Arnold L. New will be swapping places within the Philadelphia Court of Common Pleas’ trial division. According to a notice to the bar first released Wednesday, New will be joining the three-member Commerce Case Management Program, and Abramson will be taking over as the judicial team leader of the 2008 Day Forward Major Jury Program.

The change is effective Sept. 2.

Since July 28, Judge Idee C. Fox has been in the civil motions program, handling the case inventory handled by Pennsylvania Supreme Court Justice Jane Cutler Greenspan. Greenspan was elevated in July to the Supreme Court to fill out former Chief Justice Ralph G. Cappy’s term.

Abramson has served on the court since January 2005.

A more in-depth report from The Legal Intelligencer  will be in Friday’s paper.


Cantor Nominated for Second Judgeship Run

July 10, 2008

Andrew B. “Andy” Cantor’s nomination to an open judgeship on the Montgomery County Court of Common Pleas is the second time Cantor has been nominated for a county judgeship.

Former Gov. Robert Casey Sr. nominated Cantor in December 1991. Cantor — who was traveling in Italy last week and wasn’t reachable by The Legal for the article The Legal published about Gov. Edward G. Rendell’s nominations for open Court of Common Pleas judgeships around the state — said he went through a confirmation hearing and was recommended by the state Senate Judiciary Committee, but the Senate never acted on his confirmation.

This time, Cantor — who says he would become the only Democrat on the Montgomery County bench if he was confirmed — feels that any political objections to his nomination aren’t warranted because he would only be able to serve the end of 2009 after turning 70 next year.

“My nomination really should not be a political consideration,” Cantor said. “I will turn 70 during the next year. I could not run for re-election. I can serve to the end of 2009, and there would be an election in 2009 for my seat, but I could not participate. I think that would be a plus in assisting me to get confirmation.” Canto also unsuccessfully ran for a judgeship in 1993.

Cantor, who has been practicing law for more than 44 years, said becoming a judge would be the culmination of his career.

“I just feel it’s time to give back something,” Cantor said. “I do feel that I have something to offer as a judge.”

Cantor, a partner with Wisler Pearlstine in Blue Bell since 1973, practices mostly in municipal and estate law, but he has handled domestic relations, civil litigation and criminal cases in the past.

Cantor attended the University of Pennsylvania Law School and has been president of the Montgomery Bar Association.

“The bar association is very active and an excellent bar association,” Cantor said. “We’ve had a very good bench in Montgomery County for years. I look forward to the challenge of meeting those standards if confirmed.”

Cantor said he would follow the law as a judge, and that he would bring to the bench an even temper and consideration to lawyers and litigants.

Cantor has been nominated to fill the judgeship left open following the death of Judge Toby Lynn Dickman last year. A hearing on Cantor’s nomination won’t be held until the Senate returns from recess in the fall.

— Amaris Elliott-Engel, Staff Reporter

Allegheny County Children’s Court Launches Videoconferencing Pilot Program

July 7, 2008

In an effort to reduce trauma to children testifying – as well as court costs – Allegheny County Family Court has created a videoconferencing pilot program for its Children’s Court.

Family Court Administrative Judge Kim Berkeley Clark and Allegheny County Executive Dan Onorato announced Monday the launch of the program. It’s being funded through a public-private partnership between Child Watch of Pittsburgh, the Allegheny County Children’s Court, the county Department of Human Services and other local organizations.

“Our goal for this project is simple – to improve court proceedings and enhance participation in the court process, particularly for children who need to feel comfortable and safe,” Clark said in a statement. “With this project, we hope to minimize the pain of these proceedings for children.”

The program should expand the scope of participation outside of the justice and corrections systems to include all cases impacting children. That means videoconferences will be held at non-county sites like the Children’s Hospital of Pittsburgh – a partner of the new program, the court said.

The program will initially be available in eight sites, with the long-term goal to expand the technology to 36 sites, including 13 Children’s Court courtrooms, four regional courtrooms, five regional Children Youth & Families offices, two local hospitals and two jail/detention centers.

According to the court, the program will reduce trauma to children because they won’t have to physically testify in front of those who allegedly abused them. It will also increase efficiency in scheduling and improve the ability of incarcerated parents to participate in court proceedings.

— Gina Passarella, Staff Reporter

Friends of the Barnes Foundation Won’t Appeal Ruling

June 17, 2008

A group of art students, alumni and neighbors of the Barnes Foundation have joined Montgomery County in deciding not to appeal a court decision denying them standing to oppose the move of the Barnes Foundation’s $6 billion art collection to Philadelphia.

Montgomery Common Pleas Court Judge Stanley R. Ott dismissed May 15 the county’s and the Friends group’s petition to re-open hearings in In re The Barnes Foundation, a Corporation because he said Pennsylvania case law did not give the county or the Friends of the Barnes Foundation, the citizens group, standing.

Ott’s 2004 ruling in the case allowed the Barnes Foundation to break Dr. Albert C. Barnes charitable bequest requiring his art collection to stay exactly as he had it hung at his Lower Merion Township property because of the foundation’s financial woes.

“We’re very glad that they did not appeal,” said Phyllis Beck, general counsel for the Barnes Foundation. “Judge Ott’s opinion was correct. It was very straightforward. It would have been … in my opinion, impossible to overturn.”

Beck said the Barnes Foundation will not be appealing Ott’s denial of their request to receive attorneys fees.

The Friends of the Barnes Foundation criticized Ott’s most recent ruling in a news release as turning “solely on narrow and technical question of legal standing” and failing to address the merits of their legal action.

“The judge’s failure to address the merits of the appeal leaves the Barnes Foundation, one of America’s great historic assets, under the continuous threat of destruction and raises issues of profound consequences of pubic trust throughout the commonwealth,” the release said.

In court papers, the county and the Friends group had wanted Ott to re-open the proceedings to consider a county funding proposal that might have made keeping the collection in Montgomery County affordable. They also wanted Ott to consider the import of their allegation that the foundation’s trustees concealed from the court during the original hearings over the Barnes move that a state budget bill signed into law in 2002 contained a line item dedicating $100 million to house Barnes collection in Philadelphia.

Montgomery County Commissioners Chairman James R. Matthews and Commissioner Joseph M. Hoeffel said in news releases Monday they would like to negotiate with the Barnes Foundation to keep as much of the Barnes operations in Montgomery County as possible and share the collection between Lower Merion Township and Philadelphia.

Beck said that under the Barnes’ indenture all of the art collection must stay together when it’s moved to the new museum site on the Benjamin Franklin Parkway in Philadelphia and be hung in an exact replication of how the collection currently is arranged in Lower Merion Township.

However, she said, the foundation would love to cooperate with Montgomery County leaders on how the grounds and the use of the foundation’s art archives are developed.

“We’d like to move from litigation into the next phase, which would be constructive: constructing a museum, constructing a positive relationship with the neighbors and the government entities in Montgomery County and in Lower Merion,” Beck said.

— Amaris Elliott-Engel, staff reporter


Supreme Court Accepts Lawyer’s Resignation From Pa. Bar

June 9, 2008

A criminal defense lawyer sentenced 25 to 50 years in prison for sex crimes with minors, including an estimated five incidents in the Criminal Justice Center, has voluntarily resigned from the Pennsylvania state bar.

Larry Charles’ Feb. 28 resignation from the bar was accepted by the Pennsylvania Supreme Court Thursday.  Charles had agreed to an emergency suspension of his legal license after his arrest in January 2007 by sheriff’s deputies who discovered him with naked and with a 14-year-old girl in the CJC.

Charles was sentenced Dec. 20 by an out-of-county judge, Berks Common Pleas Senior Judge Albert A. Stallone, for sex crimes between 1999 and 2007 related to six girls authorities said Charles raped, molested or groped.

Charles, 50, is currently being held at State Correctional Institution Camp Hill in Cumberland County, the state’s diagnostic and classification center for men.

Charles pleaded no contest before Stallone to crimes including rape, indecent assault and corruption of minors.

Stallone sentenced Charles for consecutive sentences for the crimes related to each of the girls, including seven to 14 years for raping a 5-year-old girl.

Authorities said Charles sexually abused the girls in both of his offices in Center City and Southwest Philadelphia, in the deposit rooms of banks, in the Criminal Justice Center and in motels.

The criminal case against Charles broke open when sheriff’s deputies found him with a 14-year-old girl after engaging with sexual contact with her in a third-floor attorneys’ lounge at the CJC on Martin Luther King Day 2007.

Charles was ruled to a sexually violent predator and pedophile strongly attracted to both pre-pubescent and post-pubescent children during a Megan’s Law hearing held before his sentencing.

 — Amaris Elliott-Engel, staff reporter

Castille to Speak at Closed Chamber Event

June 5, 2008

Pennsylvania Supreme Court Chief Justice Ronald D. Castille is speaking today at the Greater Philadelphia Chamber of Commerce in what’s billed as his first address as chief justice to the business community.

The event was marketed to the legal community to encourage attendance of the event, but the event is billed as off-the-record and is closed to the press.

According to a news release posted on the Philadelphia Bar Association’s Web site, the chamber, the bar association and corporate partners Blank Rome and Aqua America, are hosting a luncheon honoring Castille as The Park Hyatt at the Bellevue between 11:30 a.m. to 1:30 p.m. today.

According to notice of the event on the chamber’s Web site: “The Chamber is honored to host The Honorable Ronald D. Castille in his first address as Chief Justice to the business community.  Chief Justice Castille will discuss current issues facing Pennsylvania’s judicial system.”

Linda Brooke, spokeswoman for the chamber, said that the event was designed to be off the record and closed to the press.

During a September 2006 breakfast at the Chamber of Commerce that was open to the press, former Chief Justice Ralph J. Cappy defended the need for the controversial pay raise for judges.

Stuart Ditzen, a spokesman for the Administrative Office of the Pennsylvania Courts, said that Castille was happy to be covered by the press and did not request that the event be closed. Castille deferred to the Chamber of Commerce’s desire to have his remarks take place within a closed meeting, Ditzen said.

Ditzen noted that unlike this event the Cappy breakfast was a special event promoted to the press.

— Amaris Elliott-Engel , staff reporter

Family Court Keeps Current Home Pending Budget Approval

June 3, 2008

The First Judicial District’s Family Court plans to keep its domestic relations branch at 34 S. 11th St. until a new court building is approved by Harrisburg has been finalized.

The court signed a five-year lease a few weeks ago with the building’s owner, Trinity Capital Associates, according to Jeff Jubelirer of the Ceisler Jubelirer public relations firm that does media relations work for the FJD.

The new lease starts July 1, Jubelirer said. The current lease expires this month.

Meanwhile, the Pennsylvania Capital Budget, which includes proposed funding for a unified Family Court building, is still in committee in the Pennsylvania House of Representatives.

The state Senate passed the public works budget, including $200 million in funding for a new Family Court building at 15th and Arch streets, this spring. The 2007-08 fiscal year capital budget has been referred to the House of Representatives to consider amendments to the budget, including the Family Court appropriations, since the House’s version of the capital budget was passed last summer.

Last year’s capital budget has been “sitting around” for so long, it will be considered as part of negotiations for the next budget cycle this month, according to Johnna A. Pro, a spokeswoman for Rep. Dwight Evans, a Democrat whose district includes parts of Philadelphia and is chair of the House Majority Appropriations Committee.

The capital budget bill, as well as the companion bill to raise the debt ceiling, will be a central part of the June budget bill process ahead of the June 30 budget deadline, Pro said. If passed, the current debt-ceiling bill would raise the debt ceiling by $750 million to $3.4 billion.

“We fully expect all of this to be part of the budget negotiations,” Pro said. “The Senate didn’t do it last year. We think everybody is ready to take it up.”

If the budget gets passed, Gov. Edward G. Rendell will have the authority decide which of the many wish-list public projects will get funded. Rendell has expressed support for a new Philadelphia Family Court building in the past.

Philadelphia Common Pleas Judge Kevin M. Dougherty, administrative judge of the family division, said in an appearance in April in before the Philadelphia Bar Association’s family law section that it was more cost-effective to stay at 34 S. 11th St., despite its crowded, unsafe conditions, pending the approval and construction of a new building. The court also considered a move to another temporary site before moving to a final, unified destination
Amaris Elliott-Engel
Staff Reporter