Friday, August 29, 2014

Superior Court Seals Allegations Of Prosecutorial Misconduct

Reprinted with permission from yesterday's National Catholic Reporter.


PHILADELPHIA — Defense lawyers for a priest and a Catholic school teacher convicted of raping a former altar boy claim that prosecutors didn’t tell them about a witness who would have bolstered the testimony of a key defense witness and called into question the accuser’s credibility.

Claiming prosecutorial misconduct, defense lawyers are seeking a new trial because they charge that prosecutors violated Brady v. Maryland, a landmark 1963 U.S. Supreme Court ruling that says prosecutors can’t withhold “exculpatory evidence” that could clear a defendant.

In a strange twist that confounds legal experts, the court ordered the filings to be sealed.

The charge of prosecutorial misconduct is in an application to amend the appellant brief filed July 9 in Pennsylvania Superior Court by Burton A. Rose, a lawyer for former teacher Bernard Shero. Michael J. McGovern, who is also seeking a new trial for his client, Fr. Charles Engelhardt, filed the same application to amend on July 10.

The same day, the district attorney's office asked the court to seal the records in the cases. On July 29, the dockets in both cases recorded that the seal was granted, but no reason was stated regarding why.

“That’s a very extraordinary remedy,” said Alan J. Tauber, a former defense lawyer for Msgr. William J. Lynn, who was also sent to jail because of accusations from the same former altar boy. “I don’t know what basis they would have to put this under seal.”

A spokesman for the district attorney’s office did not respond to a request for comment.

Tuesday, August 12, 2014

Judge Grants Bail For Accused "Rogue" Cop; Meanwhile, Defense Lawyers Sound Pretty Cocky About Their Guys Beating The Rap

Former Officers Thomas Liciardello [left] and Michael Spicer
By Ralph Cipriano

U.S. District Court Judge Eduardo C. Robreno let former Philadelphia Police Officer Michael Spicer out of jail this afternoon, setting bail at $175,000.

In a second bail hearing, Robreno adjourned court after two hours of arguments. The judge wanted to give himself some time overnight to ponder whether he should also let out of jail Officer Thomas Liciardello, the man the feds say is the alleged ringleader of a band of rogue cops.

Federal prosecutors have charged six former members of the city's Narcotics Field Unit in a 26-count racketeering indictment with stealing more than $500,000 in cash, drugs and personal property, while allegedly using excessive force, kidnapping drug dealers and falsifying police reports to cover their tracks.

Police Commissioner Charles Ramsey has already waved the white flag, calling the allegations "one of the worst cases of corruption I have ever heard." Ramsey suspended all six cops for 30 days, with the intention of firing them. He also announced at a press conference that he plans on destroying the former cops' badges. How's that for a presumption of innocence?

Not to be outdone, U.S. Attorney Zane David Memeger wanted to see the six former cops held in jail without bail until trial because they supposedly were flight risks and posed a danger to the community.

But five of the six former officers are now out on bail, and the judge was considering whether to let the sixth officer out of jail. Meanwhile, today in court a couple of defense lawyers sounded pretty cocky about the chances of their guys beating the rap when the government's much ballyhooed police corruption case finally comes to trial.

Tuesday, August 5, 2014

Grudge Match: Msgr. Lynn Vs. D.A.

By Ralph Cipriano

In a grudge match before the state Supreme Court, defense lawyers for Msgr. William J. Lynn will square off against District Attorney Seth Williams.

At stake is the freedom of Lynn, whose historic June 22, 2012 conviction on one count of endangering the welfare of a child was reversed on Dec. 26, 2013 by the state Superior Court.

Both the district attorney and Lynn's defense lawyers have filed briefs in anticipation of a yet-unscheduled hearing before the state's highest court. The district attorney began his 33-page filing on July 10th by charging that Lynn "was a high ranking Archdiocesan official specifically responsible for protecting children from pedophile priests."

"Instead, he relocated them, as part of a general scheme of concealment, in a manner that put additional children at risk of being sexually molested," the district attorney wrote. In reversing Lynn's conviction, "The Superior Court erred and should be reversed," concluded the brief filed by Chief of  the D.A.'s Appeal Unit Hugh J. Burns Jr., Deputy District Attorney Ronald Eisenberg, First Assistant District Attorney Edward F. McCann Jr., and D.A. Seth Williams.

In their 55-page brief filed on Aug. 1st, defense lawyers Thomas A. Bergstrom and Allison Khaskelis, go on the attack, charging that the "Commonwealth's brief is replete with factual errors." The defense lawyers ripped the D.A.'s brief as an "unfair attempt to deflect this court's attention from the narrow issue actually before it," namely whether the state's original 1972 child endangerment law applied to Lynn. The defense lawyers further accuse the district attorney of "shrouding the narrow issue in a cloak of hysteria and emotions."

Monday, August 4, 2014

The Man In the Mirror

By Ralph Cipriano

Sometimes you can conduct an exhaustive nationwide search for a talented top executive and never realize that the perfect candidate is right under your nose.

Or in the case of H.F. "Gerry" Lenfest, that ideal candidate is staring back at you in the mirror.

After Lenfest and the late Lew Katz won the May 27th auction to buy the Inquirer, Daily News and for the inflated price of $88 million, Katz introduced Lenfest as interim publisher of the Inquirer. And then Lenfest announced that his first order of business was to find a new publisher.

Lenfest was quoted in the Inquirer as telling employees that he already had identified five potential candidates and that he expected the hiring process to take several months. But it didn't take that long.

In the interim, for the past couple months, Lenfest's name has appeared at the top of the Inky masthead alongside the title of interim publisher. Last Tuesday, "interim" was dropped from the title and Lenfest simply became publisher.

There was no public announcement, no installation ceremony. No smoke signals emanating from 8th and Market. Just the dropping of one word, interim, from the masthead. Talk about anticlimactic.

Friday, July 18, 2014

When A Reporter Crosses The Line

By Ralph Cipriano

The president of the FOP says there are credible allegations that two Pulitzer Prize-winning Daily News reporters behaved unethically by buying diapers and food and paying utility bills for a woman they wrote about who accused police of misconduct.

If the allegations are true, Police Commissioner Charles Ramsey says, the reporters crossed an ethical line and may have tainted the criminal investigation of the cops accused of misconduct.

In the wake of the charges, Daily News reporters Wendy Ruderman and Barbara Laker aren't talking, and neither are their editors. Only new owner and interim Inquirer Publisher H.F. "Gerry" Lenfest has spoken. "We stand behind the work of our reporters," Lenfest said in a canned statement defending the Daily News and its prize-winning series, "Tainted Justice." But Lenfest's statement also said that "if such 'sound evidence' exists, we will pursue it."

One impeccable source, however, has already stated in writing that the reporters crossed the line by giving gifts and buying food for another character in their series. The source is Wendy Ruderman, who in her book BUSTED A tale of Corruption and Betrayal in the City of Brotherly Love, discloses that she bought groceries and gave gifts to former police informant Ventura "Benny" Martinez, who in Tainted Justice, also accused the police of misconduct.

"As journalists, Barbara [Laker] and I couldn't give him money, but we tried to help him in other ways," Ruderman writes on pg. 169 of BUSTED. "I bought him groceries, rushing over to his home with bags of vegetables, turkey and Dora the Explorer fruit snacks. I bought his son a Razor scooter for his birthday and told Benny to say it was from him. I wondered if Benny sold the scooter for drugs, but at the time, I was so plagued with guilt that I couldn't see through his manipulation and lies."

"Barbara and I knew the things we did for Benny crossed the line," Ruderman wrote. "But that line -- the one between reporter and human being -- got blurry."

Wednesday, July 16, 2014

Leonetti Rips Uncle, Says Cousin Didn't Have A Chance

By George Anastasia

Defense attorneys for Nicodemo S. Scarfo said repeatedly during his federal fraud trial that Scarfo,
49, was targeted for prosecution because of the reputation and notoriety of his father, jailed Philadelphia mob boss Nicodemo D. "Little Nicky" Scarfo.

The jury, of course, saw it differently, convicting the younger Scarfo of all 25 counts he faced in the looting of FirstPlus Financial, a Texas mortgage company.

But now another voice has weighed in in Scarfo's defense. It's not a defense of what he did, but rather an explanation for how he ended up where he did. And it's also a plea for some consideration from Judge Robert Kugler when he sentences Scarfo in October.

The younger Scarfo never had a chance, said his cousin, mobster-turned-government witness Philip Leonetti.

"He's really not a gangster," Leonetti, 61, said in a telephone interview with Bigtrial this week. "His father had him under his spell...I used to tell him, 'Nicky, get away from these guys.' And when he was talking to me, he would agree' But then he would talk to his father and..."

Tuesday, July 15, 2014

The Inky Vs. The Daily News

Barbara Laker, Wendy Ruderman and Michael Days
By Ralph Cipriano

First it was the former owners of The Philadelphia Inquirer who couldn't get along. They wound up suing each other in court over the firing of Inquirer Editor Bill Marimow, amid charges of  newsroom meddling.

Then it was the top editors of the Inquirer and Daily News who squared off over an Inky story about police corruption that supposedly cast the two reporters who wrote the tabloid's 2010 Pulitzer Prize-winning series, "Tainted Justice," in a negative light.

According to several newsroom sources, two top editors of the Daily News -- Editor Michael Days and Assistant Managing Editor Gar Joseph -- lobbied heavily and even threatened to resign if new owner and interim Inquirer Publisher H.F. "Gerry" Lenfest ran an Inky story scheduled for last Sunday's paper written by Inky staff writers Mike Newall and Aubrey Whelan.

Lenfest settled the dispute by killing the Inky story, according to several sources. Then it was Inky Editor Bill Marimow's turn to get upset about newsroom meddling. There was talk on the rumor mill about Marimow threatening to resign, but he didn't go anywhere. Now it appears the veteran Inky editor may be digging in for a longer fight.

"It's an internal matter, and it's not open for discussion," Marimow wrote in a terse email, when asked about the killed story.

Friday, July 11, 2014

Don Manno Gets His Life Back

By George Anastasia

Don Manno sat in Seasons 52, a posh restaurant at the Cherry Hill Mall one day this week, eating a piece of salmon and talking about the future.

But the past, the immediate past, kept intruding into his conversation.

It was one week exactly from the day a jury in U.S. District Court in Camden had given him his life back. Manno was calm, relaxed and philosophical about the experience. He had beaten federal prosecutors in a grueling six-month trial in which his freedom and future as an attorney were on the line.

It shouldn't have come to that, the veteran defense attorney said.

"I think the federal prosecutors thought they were going to teach us all a lesson about how to practice law," Manno said. "I don't need them to tell me how to be a lawyer. I did nothing wrong. If a jury had questioned what I did then I might think differently. But federal prosecutors aren't going to tell me how to be a lawyer."

That was as close as Manno, 68, came to displaying any of the anger and bitterness that lingers from the FirstPlus Financial fraud case in which he was ensnarled. For the most part, he was sanguine, profusely thanking and praising his wife Rita and his grown daughters Kimberley and Rebecca for helping him through an ordeal that, he says, will make him a better lawyer.

"I think I always had the ability to relate to my clients, to understand intellectually what they were going through," he said. "But now I think I have an emotional understanding. When you get a knock on your door at six in the morning and they take you away in handcuffs, you have a different understanding of the process."


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