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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State of the Schuylkill County GOP

As we put the spring primary season in the rear-view mirror and slowly turn into the summer block party season, it is always helpful to evaluate oneself and take an inventory about where exactly we are as a party before we get to the bumpy road that is the fall general election.

The past year has been something of a whirlwind for the Schuylkill County Republican Party. Never before has the local GOP so drastically veered from the beaten path of status quo politics. We elected new leadership and instituted historic reforms to the county committee by-laws. With change came a plethora of fresh faces, like the 300-member strong Schuylkill County Conservatives, into the fold. All of a sudden, for the first time in decades, the Grand OLD Party was growing. The voters rewarded the party for its new tone last fall as Republicans reclaimed the 125th state house seat as Mike Tobash shellacked two-term incumbent, Tim Seip, and Jerry Knowles won re-election to the 124th in record fashion.

However, it wasn’t all flower petals and love songs. Old rivalries within the GOP persisted and bitterness among the fallen leadership rose to a fever pitch. This was no more apparent than in the primary race for county commissioner. On one side, there was Larry Padora, the newly minted Vice Chairman of the party and very vocal standard-bearer of the reform wing. In the other corner, was veteran war-horse and poster boy of the way things used to be in Schuylkill County politics, three-term incumbent County Commissioner, Frank Staudenmeier. In the middle, was everybody’s favorite insurance salesman and philanthropic enthusiast, George Halcovage, who sought to straddle the canyon between the “old guard” and the “new turks”. Continue reading

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CLARKE REPORT EXCLUSIVE: Interview with Mantura Gallagher

On Friday morning at the county courthouse, I conducted an exclusive interview with Board of Commissioners Chairwoman Mantura Gallagher.  Mrs. Gallagher requested my time because she took issue with parts of my recent article concerning the alleged fraud of custody conciliation officer Lynn Bressi and perceived diversionary tactics by Gallagher and Pottsville Republican and Herald publisher Henry Nyce. In the interest of fairness, I agreed to print Gallagher’s “clarifications” to allow the readers to decide for themselves what really happened.

Before getting to the interview, I just wanted to express my appreciation to Commissioner Gallagher for reaching out to me and wanting to tell her side to the story, instead of having family members send threatening e-mails to myself and my family, like some other public officials did. She was very candid and answered most of my questions straightforwardly with class and dignity.

Its not a secret that I had a lot of respect for Mrs. Gallagher before today because of my family’s relationship with hers and because of my dealings with her husband Jim. After today, I respect her even more. The questions posed below were not necessarily asked or answered in this order. We had a 45-minute conversation and bounced around quite a lot, but I placed it in this order for you to better follow along. Continue reading


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Commissioners & Local Media Playing Politics with Bressi Fraud Case

More than a week ago, news broke that Pottsville attorney Lynn G. Bressi, who was employed as a custody master by the Schuylkill County Court of Common Pleas, was fired from her position and was being investigated for fraud relating to the alleged over-billing of the county.  According to sources close to the investigation, the alleged fraud was uncovered by Schuylkill County Controller Melinda Kantner after complaints from local attorneys about protracted custody proceedings. Once Kantner discovered discrepancies in the billing records, she immediately reported her findings to President Judge William E. Baldwin, who promptly canned Bressi on October 12th.

According to public documents, Bressi billed the county for nearly $82,000 in services last year and over $64,000 so far this year in a position that is traditionally a part-time job. Bressi, a prominent democrat, who serves on the Schuylkill County Board of Elections, is reportedly a close personal friend of County Board of Commissioners Chairwoman Mantura Gallagher. The two are rumored to play a weekly card game with each other. In addition, in an ironic twist of fate, Gallagher reportedly leaned heavily on Kantner when she took office to hire Bressi as that office’s solicitor. Kantner eventually decided on Pottsville attorney Sudhir Patel. Bressi is also married to attorney Charles Bressi, a former assistant district attorney under incumbent James P. Goodman. Continue reading


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The Mystery of the Phantom Courthouse Car Accident

Over the past few months, a string of allegations of abuse of power has swept through the four corners of the Schuylkill County Courthouse. Now, I am not here to judge the veracity of those allegations, but considering that many of these stories have been swept under the rug, some by government themselves, and others by our trusted local media, it seemed proper to use this venue to at least bring one such allegations to the light of the public’s attention.

It is no secret that many county agencies are assigned government vehicles for business use. Children and Youth Services has vans for transportation of children and Juvenile Probation has cage cars to transport delinquents to and from court and secure placements. Most of these vehicles are nothing special, just minivans and old police cars. However, a few years ago, the Adult Probation Office purchased a brand new black Dodge Charger for use by officers on-call overnight and on the weekends. Some critics at the time argued that it was extravagant and unnecessary, but the county commissioners permitted the department to kept it. Now, this vehicle is only permitted to be driven by authorized county personnel on official county business. Joy riding and personal use are, of course, strictly prohibited. Continue reading


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Goodman Blew It

There. Someone finally said it.

The talk around the water cooler the past few days centered around one question: How did the Shenandoah teens get away with murder?  The answers given have spanned everything from the race card to conspiracy theories. Thank goodness the Clarke Report is here to set the record straight. In my opinion, the main reason why Brandon Piekarsky and Derrick Donchak were found not guilty of homicide and aggravated assault in the beating death of Luis Ramirez was the poor performance of Schuylkill County District Attorney James Goodman.

From his rush to judgment as soon as the media’s cameras turned their lenses on Schuylkill County, which tainted his objectivity and focus during the investigative stages, to his tactical errors in and out of the courtroom during the past two weeks, DA Goodman should bear the brunt of the responsibility and criticism for this fiasco.

It was Goodman who decided to ignore Office Senape when he reported that Arielle Garcia had identified Brian Scully as the person who kicked Ramirez in the head while he lay unconscious on the ground to instead focus his attention on Piekarsky.

It was Goodman who decided not answer “the shoe question” until mid-trial.

It was Goodman who decided to drop all state charges against the sucker-puncher, Colin Walsh, in exchange for his testimony even though the evidence suggested he was the most aggressive teen during the fight.

It was Goodman who decided to charge Brian Scully as a juvenile in exchange for his testimony even though he had changed his story three different times and was reportedly the instigator of the entire melee.

It was Goodman who decided to allow Rob Frantz, a part-time ADA who is also a partner at Goodman’s old law firm, to be the lead prosecutor instead of Goodman himself or the office’s top gun, AJ Serina.

Just think where we’d be, if Goodman had just relaxed, gotten all the facts before talking to reporters, and charged the right teens with the right crimes. Justice might actually have been done!

From my vantage point, it looked as though Goodman became intoxicated with the limelight from the state and national news media, which pushed him into making arrests before the police and county detectives knew for sure just what went down that night.  Then, when that adoration turned into pressure to convict, Goodman shriveled up in the intensity of that same limelight. Its not an unusual tale. A small-time prosecutor who sees the opportunity for to take a step up the political ladder, but unwisely takes short cuts to get there faster, ends up getting burned, and being ultimately worse off than he was before it all started.

Now, I am not taking anything away from Fred Fanelli or Jeffrey Markosky. They were PHENOMENAL as defense counsel. But, Goodman’s blunders made their job all the more easier. It was like giving steroids to Secretariat. In the coming months, the citizens of Schuylkill County are going to receive flyers in the mail, listen to commercials on the radio, and watch advertisements on television, explaining how much “good” Jim Goodman has done as our district attorney. If you start to believe any of it, I would suggest thinking back to the moment you heard that the verdict in the biggest trial in Schuylkill County history was NOT GUILTY and then make cast your ballot.


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