ARD: Giving People a Second Chance After a First DUI

An arrest for driving under the influence of alcohol/drugs can be one the most humiliating and scary moments of a person’s life. I have advised plenty of clients who thought that as a result of a DUI they would be sent to prison, lose their job, or have their children taken away. While it is true that in Pennsylvania penalties for certain DUI offenses can be harsh, such as when someone causes an accident when driving drunk or is a repeat offender, for the person without any prior DUI convictions, there exists a program that can provide him/her a second chance at a criminal record-free life after a first DUI arrest. It is called Accelerated Rehabilitative Disposition.

Commonly referred to as ARD, the program was designed to divert first-time offenders from the  overcrowded penal system and to speed up the court process for one of Pennsylvania’s most common criminal offenses. With the rate of recidivism for DUI offenders going through the roof in the 1980’s, the idea was that instead of clogging up the prisons with drunks and drug addicts, the judicial system could attempt to address the real problem by treating an offender’s addiction and/or poor decision-making abilities, so as to keep them out of the system thereafter. Meanwhile, offenders who just made a REALLY bad choice one night, wouldn’t have their lives turned upside down, their clean records blemished, and their employment jeopardized. It is a program unique to Pennsylvania and one that has been very effective. Continue reading

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To Violate a Custody Order or Not to Violate? That is the Question

One of the hardest decisions a parent or guardian can face in a custody dispute is whether to violate a custody order when they believe the other parent is endangering their child or not acting in the child’s best interests. As anyone who has been involved in the custody process can attest, the wheels of justice turn rather slowly and make it difficult for a parent to address an issue quickly by changing the terms of a custody order through the usual channels. This leads to parents usually acting hastily, which can cause trouble down the line when the case finally does find its way into court.

So, what does a person do to make sure that their child is safe and secure, while still acting within the confines of the law? Continue reading

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Jury Deliberations Begin Today in Shen Murder Trial

After a day of testimony where District Attorney James Goodman saw two police officers and one of the victim’s friends testify that Brandon Piekarsky was NOT the person who fatally kicked Luis Ramirez in the head, his battered prosecution team will look to recover during closing arguments today. The “trial of the decade” has not gone according to plan for Schuylkill County’s top law enforcement official. It was all supposed to be a slam dunk, but after days of contradictory testimony from Goodman’s own witnesses and the stirring revelations that eyewitnesses identified Brian Scully as the kicker from the police who arrived on the scene first, some trial watchers believe that an acquittal on the murder and manslaughter counts is completely feasible.

West Mahanoy Township police officer Robert Senape and Frackville police officer Michelle Ashman both testified yesterday that eyewitness Arielle Garcia clearly identified Brian Scully, charged as a juvenile in this case and who testified for the prosecution earlier this week, as the teen who kicked Ramirez in the head as he lay unconscious on the street. Mysteriously, that fact never ended up in any official investigation report. Chief Schuylkill County Detective Anthony Carroll claimed that he was never told about Garcia’s Scully identification, but Senape did have a face to face meeting with both Carroll and DA Goodman later on. However, the context of that meeting was excluded from evidence by President Judge William Baldwin.

Hmmmm, something just doesn’t seem right about this.

Although he was the chief investigator on this case, prosecutors did not call Carroll as a witness, but lead defense counsel Fred Fanelli sure did. He thundered away on Carroll asking him why he did not further investigate “the shoe question”, which refers to earlier  testimony from a Ramirez friend that said the person who kicked Ramirez was wearing white and blue shoes. Piekarsky was wearing blue and gray shoes that night, but Scully was wearing white and blue ones.

These revelations further highlight what has become a continuing trend for the prosecution: witnesses who have contradicted themselves and the prosecution’s theory of the case on the witness stand.

First, on Day 1, the neighbor who first heard the fight and called 911 testified differently than what she said on the 911 tape, which was played for the jury. Then, on Day 2, Colin Walsh and Brian Scully, two teens who were key participants in the fatal melee (Scully was the first to approach and punch Ramirez, while Walsh landed the sucker punch that floored Ramirez) were skewered on cross-examination by Fanelli due to their changing their stories multiple times over the course of the case.

For weeks, Scully denied even being at the scene. Later he admitted his involvement, but said that there wasn’t a kick. It was only after he made a deal with Goodman to be charged only as a juvenile that Scully said Piekarsky landed the final kick. It is the defense’s contention that Scully is the person who kicked Ramirez in the head.

Walsh, the prosecution’s star witness and recipient of a sweetheart deal in exchange for his testimony, couldn’t seem to get his story straight either. He gave three different statements to police, all of which contradicted his testimony on Tuesday. Walsh punched Ramirez in the side of the head when he wasn’t looking, which led to Ramirez falling to ground and hitting his head off the street. He was originally charged with murder, manslaughter, assault, and ethnic intimidation (the same as Piekarsky and Donchak), but they were all dropped by Goodman after Walsh plead guilty to a Fair Housing Act violation in federal court and agreed to testify against   his two best friends.

All of this points to lead prosecutor Robert Frantz needing a stellar closing argument today, if this case is to be saved at all.

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Trial of the Decade Begins Today

Nine months ago, Schuylkill County grabbed national headlines with the brutal beating death of an illegal immigrant in Shenandoah and subsequent arrest of three high school students in connection with it. The limelight will again shine on our fair county for the next two weeks as two of those students, Brandon Piekarsky and Derrick Donchak, go on trial for their lives starting at 9AM this morning at the Schuylkill County Courthouse.

For legal experts and avid trial watchers, this is going to be a hell of a show.

On one side of the courtroom, we have a prosecution that seems to have a slam dunk. Schuylkill County District Attorney Jim Goodman has a victim, Luis Ramirez, that died in horrid fashion on the cold, dark, streets of Shenandoah, leaving behind a weeping fiance and three young children. He has one of the perpetrators, Colin Walsh, playing the role of Sammy “The Bull” Gravano by testifying for the Commonwealth against his two best friends. And, Goodman has up to six eyewitnesses in the bullpen to corroborate the abundance of physical evidence collected by investigators.

On the other side, we have the best defense counsel money can buy in Fred Fanelli, ready to surgically cut holes in, around, and through the heart of the prosecution’s case. Fanelli will no doubt pounce on the victim’s checkered past, which to this point has been glossed over by the media and involves border-jumping, suspected drug dealing, and alleged sex with his underage soon to be sister-in-law. He will further neutralize jury sympathy for the victim and his family by outing Ramirez’ grieving widow as a a former drug offender and a suspected neglectful parent, who had a Children and Youth Services case file. Finally and most importantly, Fanelli will try to embed doubt into the jury’s mind about whether Ramirez really died when his client, Piekarsky, allegedly kicked him in the head. Medical examiners could not conclusively determine whether it was Walsh’s sucker punch or Piekarsky’s kick that killed Ramirez. With Walsh breaking ranks from his buddies, Fanelli will have the perfect scapegoat and a reasonable explanation about how his guy wasn’t really the killer.

Add to that the circus that will be going on outside with the protests and counter-protests and counter to the counter-protests fueled by a national debate about illegal immigration, along with the political stakes for DA Goodman, and you have a made for cable tv drama not seen in this area ever before.

So, grab your popcorn and set your TiVo for those other fictional programs, because this will be the most entertaining, most talked about, and most anticipated real-life event in a very, very long time.

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What’s Going on w/ 3rd Shen Teen’s Trial?

When Schuylkill County President Judge William E. Baldwin issued a press release earlier this week that indicated the  date of the long-awaited murder trial of three Shenandoah teens in connection with the beating death an illegal Mexican immigrant had been set, something was mysteriously missing . . . . the third defendant’s name on the docket. As a result, speculation has been rampant around the county about why Colin Walsh will not be sitting at the defense table with his buddies Brandon Piekarsky and Derrick Donchak.

Neither Judge Baldwin or District Attorney James Goodman would provide many straight answers other than Walsh still had charges pending. Up until now, the three teens had been scheduled to stand trial together. With such a sudden change to the schedule less than a week before jury selection is slated to begin, it doesn’t take a Perry Mason to figure out what is probably happening. In my opinion, it looks as though Walsh has turned state’s evidence and will probably testify against his cohorts.

What bothers me about such a deal with is that it remains unclear who actually killed Luis Ramirez last July. The prosecution’s theory is as follows:

(1) A group of six teens were involved in the incident. All of them were drunk

(2) Piekarsky and Brian Scully yelled racial epitaths at Ramirez as they passed him on the street.

(3) Scully engaged Ramirez in the first fight.

(4) Ramirez fought him off and was able to call a buddy for help.

(5) Donchak then engaged Ramirez in a second fight.

(6) Ramirez again fought him off.

(7) Piekarsky, Walsh, and Donchak then engaged Ramirez in a third altercation

(8) While Ramirez was looking at Donchak, Walsh sucker-punched him in the side of the head, knocking Ramirez to the ground and his head off the pavement.

(9) While Ramirez was down all three kicked him in the body.

(10) Piekarsky landed the final blow, kicking Ramirez in the side of the head.

Medical officials reported that Ramirez died as a result of severe brain injuries from his head hitting the ground via the Walsh punch and being kicked in the head by Piekarsky. However, they could not ascertain what blow actually killed him. Judge Baldwin ruled at an earlier hearing that the evidence was sufficient to charge both Piekarsky and Walsh with third degree murder because both of their actions led to the injuries that simultaneously killed Ramirez. That is a very legally sound decision. However, in reality, it is entirely possible that Ramirez was dead when his head hit the ground. Piekarsky’s kick might not have even mattered.

So, if  DA Goodman has decided to make a deal with Walsh to secure a conviction of Piekarsky and Donchak, he could be, at worst, pleading down the actual murderer of Luis Ramirez, while at best, be pleading down a coward who blind-sided a guy in a 3-on-1 fight.

It is my view that this is a purely political decision by Jim Goodman. Since the outset of the investigation, Goodman has taken every opportunity to mug for the national media cameras. Now, with the bright lights squarely on his office (of course, not him personally, because Goodman will not be lead trial counsel for the prosecution, one of his assistants is as per the usual for the Schuylkill DA) and his re-election looming in the fall, Goodman can ill-afford any type of screw-up, especially with the finest criminal defense attorney money can buy, Fred Fanelli, sitting on the other side of the courtroom.

Just like with his record of pleading down 48% of all drug offenders in this county just to clear some backlogged files off his desk, Goodman is opting to sacrifice the delivery of justice by issuing a get out of jail free card to one of main perpetrators in this case for the purpose of ensuring that he gets his picture and a glowing write-up in the New York Times.

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Clarke Report Opens Law Practice!

It took me long enough, but I finally started my own legal practice. That is what has been keeping me from my Clarke Report duties over the past two weeks. So, if you need legal advice or representation at a very affordable rate, please check out the new website and contact me today.

And I will be back here soon, resuming my usual duties as Schuylkill County’s #1 political commentator.

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Another Allegation of Rendell Corruption

This time, Fast Eddie seems to be using no-bid contingency contracts to reward trial lawyers for making lucrative donations to his re-election campaign. In a case in front of the PA Supreme Court today, Jannsen Pharmaceuticals has asked that the Houston law firm of Bailey, Perrin, & Bailey be removed as trial counsel for the Commonwealth due to the fact that they allegedly paid over $100,000 to Rendell’s campaign in the months leading up to 2006 election in exchange for prosecuting this case, which could bring in BILLIONS of dollars in contingency fees to the firm.

The Wall Street Journal has an in-depth article about this in today’s edition.

My question is: Don’t we have an Attorney General whose job it is prosecute cases on behalf of the state? Maybe he is too busy campaigning for governor to be bothered with this.

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