Category Archives: Local News

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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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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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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Obama: Schuylkill Not Blue Enough for Stimulus Money

Pennsylvania has $102 million dollars in federal dollars coming its way to promote energy efficient technologies as a result of the $787 billion dollar stimulus package. How much of that will Schuylkill County see? ZERO. Yes, that’s right. A county with a abundance of coal reserves, plans for coal to oil plants, and over 10% of its citizens unemployed, was stiffed by President Barack Obama’s department of energy.

Governor Ed Rendell has said that money was allocated based on a “population formula”. US Rep. Tim Holden (D-17) stated that Schuylkill was blanked because he wasn’t permitted to attach earmarks to the bill (which doesn’t make sense considering that over 9000 earmarks actually passed) But, the plain truth of the matter is that both of those excuses are BS. The REAL reason that Schuylkill County received a big fat goose egg is that not enough of our residents voted for Obama in November.

Yes, much like every other piece of legislation to come out of Washington since the inauguration, the “stimulus” is one large patronage package for staunch Obama supporters. And since Schuylkill County went for Sen. John McCain during the election, we were not allowed to dip our fingers in the federal honey pot.

You don’t believe me? Just look at the cash allocation:

Philadelphia: $14.1 million–Obama 83%, McCain 16%

Allegheny Co. (includes Pittsburgh):$11.4 million–Obama 57%, McCain 42%

Luzerne Co. (includes Wilkes-Barre):$2.6 million–Obama 54%, McCain 45%

Lehigh Co. (includes Bethlehem):$3 million–Obama 57%, McCain 42%

Chester Co.: $4.6 million–Obama  54%, McCain 45%

Montgomery Co. (includes Chelteham and Lower Merion): $6.3 million–Obama 60%, McCain 39%

Delaware Co. (includes Chester, UpperDarby, & Middletown): $4.7 million–Obama 60%, McCain 39%

Bucks Co. $3.9 million–Obama 54%, McCain 45%

Lackawanna Co. (includes Scranton):$720,000–Obama 63%, McCain 36%

Berks Co. (includes Reading):$3.6 million–Obama 54%, McCain 35%

Erie (city):$1 million–Obama 59%, McCain 40%

Northhampton Co.: $2.5 million–Obama 56%, McCain 43%

Only four counties that went for McCain, out of the 50 he won statewide, received stimulus money. Typically, all of them have metropolitan or suburban areas that went heavily for Obama. Meanwhile, only four Obama counties were left off the funding list (I’m sure he will get them back in some other portion of the massive stimulus, you watch).

What this adds up to is politics at its worst. If your community dared to vote for the Republican candidate, you are SOL for at least the next four years when it comes to federal dollars. Under this new regime of “change”, the people of Schuylkill County better get used to being snubbed.

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Holman Officially Announces DA Bid

In a press statement released today, trial attorney Christine A. Holman officially announced that she will seek to unseat Schuylkill County District Attorney James P. Goodman:

FRACKVILLE (March 19, 2009) – Former prosecutor Christine A. Holman, Barnesville, will challenge incumbent James P. Goodman for Schuylkill County District Attorney.

 

“Our District Attorney has turned a blind eye to drug dealers, violent criminals, and illegal aliens in order to clear files from his desk,” said Holman. “We deserve a prosecutor who refuses to make plea deals the norm and who protects the citizens by putting criminals behind bars.”

 

Holman, a former Schuylkill County assistant district attorney, brings 13 years of courtroom experience into a race where Goodman’s lack of toughness on drug dealers will be issue number one.

 

“Jim Goodman has either dropped or reduced the charges of 48% of drug offenders arrested in Schuylkill County since 2006,” Holman stated. “In his campaign four years ago, Goodman promised to stop cutting deals with criminals, but he’s broken his word.”

 

Holman added, “As your District Attorney, I will say ‘No Deal!’ to drug offenders and violent criminals looking for easy time.”

 

Along with her running mate, county Sheriff candidate and former Pottsville City Chief of Police Dale Repp, Holman is committed to pursuing white collar criminals as diligently as she does violent and drug offenders.

 

She also takes issue with the fact that Goodman has not prosecuted the minimum amount of cases expected of the county’s top law enforcement official.

 

“For the $150,000 salary that we pay for the position, this county deserves a working district attorney,” Holman said. “I will not delegate the full throe of my prosecutorial responsibility to my assistants, rather, I will sit first chair on many of the major crimes that pass over my desk.”

 

Finally, Holman believes that the District Attorney has an obligation to work with other agencies in government to proactively combat crime. To do this, Holman has proposed the formation of a task force to fight illegal immigration and a commission to identify blighted or vacated properties that are hotbeds for crime.

 

Holman believes that the district attorney, the county sheriff, and municipal police forces can aid the US Department of Homeland Security in detaining and deporting illegal aliens by using their local resources to identify where these immigrants live, informing DHS when an illegal is detained for another crime, and coordinating raids on local businesses that are known to employee them.

 

A graduate of Thomas M. Cooley Law School in Lansing, Michigan, Holman has operated a successful solo practice in Frackville for the past eight years that specializes in criminal defense, family law, and personal injury.

 

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