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From the December 10, 2011, Tribune-Review
By Paul Peirce
Saturday, December 10, 2011
Aficionados of the Westmoreland County Coroner's Office don't approach Lady Gaga's 16.7 million followers or even pop star Justin Bieber's 15.2 million devotees, but Coroner Ken Bacha's office issues instant notification of public rulings via Twitter and Facebook.
In mid-October, the Westmoreland row office became the first in the state to offer official public releases via popular social media. Other coroners are watching the foray with interest.
Such information had been available through email on the county's e-Alert system. Bacha said the office was looking for a way to more quickly disseminate public information.
"It was pretty much changed for convenience ... to get the information out there more quickly," Chief Deputy Coroner Paul Cycak said.
"Previously, if there was a case we were called to, let's say that occurred Friday night, the previous system was set up only to provide information during normal county business hours -- that's 8:30 a.m. to 4:30 p.m. Monday through Friday. So, the media had to wait until Monday morning to get the information,"he said.
"This way, we at least have a system in place to provide the media with that public information during other hours," Cycak said.
Deputy Coroner Josh Zappone handles the office's Twitter feeds and Facebook page. In its first 59 days, Zappone said, the office's Twitter feed had increased from "just a couple" to 47 followers.
"It's been going pretty good so far, I think. The number of followers keeps incrementally increasing," Zappone said.
Zappone said the social media feeds are a way to provide information to reporters, who may be out in the field and in need of the information.
"We wanted to do it in a manner as quickly and efficiently as possible. Also, it is public information, so we decided to make it available to members of the general public who want it ... there's some police officers, people from other agencies and members of the public who follow the office on Twitter or the Facebook page," Zappone said.
Most of the information involves the cause and manner of death, the time of death and the agencies investigating. The information is still being released via email.
All feeds and postings must first be approved by Bacha or Cycak before release. Some information is withheld at the request of investigators.
Judge McCormick, Jr. will not be hearing civil or orphans’ court motions on the following Fridays: January 27, 2012 and February 3, 2012. Counsel should make arrangements to present motions on a prior or subsequent Friday.
The Hon. James R. Kelley is retiring at the end of this month and has a number of law books, including some complete sets, available. All are in excellent condition. Anyone interested in obtaining them should contact Judge Kelley at 724-830-2000.
Judge Marsili and Judge Caruso will not be hearing civil or orphans’ court motions on Friday, December 23, 2011. Counsel should make arrangements to present motions on a prior or subsequent Friday.
From Bruce A. Antkowiak, Counsel to the College and Archabbey, Director: Criminology, Law, and Society, Professor of Law, St. Vincent College
Dear Westmoreland Bar Members:
I am honored to invite you to the first event sponsored by the Saint Vincent College Criminology, Law and Society Program.
On Tuesday, November 29, at 7 p.m. in the Rogers Center at Saint Vincent, we will present a program entitled Reconciling Truth and Freedom: The Criminal Justice System and the Phenomenon of Wrongful Convictions.
Since the 1980’s, two hundred and seventy three innocent people who were investigated, tried, convicted and sentenced for the most serious of offenses have been exonerated by later DNA analysis. In about 75% of those cases, one or more witnesses incorrectly identified the person later exonerated as the perpetrator. In about 25% of those cases, the person later exonerated actually “confessed” to a crime they did not commit.
Matters involving wrongful convictions are sometimes improperly viewed as issues only important to the criminal defense bar. But for public prosecutors, the tragedy of the incarceration of the wrong person is compounded by the fact that for every day spent in the prosecution and incarceration of that innocent person, the actual perpetrator escaped the justice he was due and that society needed to bring to him. For everyone, these incidents hurt the integrity of a system into which we all invest so much and in which we all rightfully take so much pride.
The featured speaker is John Rago, professor of law at Duquesne University, chairman of the Pennsylvania Innocence Commission and preeminent expert in the field. Professor Rago will discuss the primary causes of wrongful convictions in the United States, including the legal and scientific issues involving eyewitness identification and confessions. He will also discuss some reforms proposed by his Commission that will address those critical issues.
Professor Rago will be joined by Kirk Bloodsworth, the first man in America to be exonerated from Death Row by post-conviction DNA analysis. He served almost nine years in prison awaiting the death penalty until his innocence was established. A number of years later, DNA analysis identified the actual perpetrator as a man who was serving time in the same prison as Bloodsworth. Mr. Bloodsworth has since testified before the House and Senate Judiciary Committees and is largely credited for the passage of significant federal legislation bearing his name that funds DNA testing around the nation.
The event is free and open to the public. Please call 724-805-2177 to reserve your seat (seating is limited).
Please accept an invitation to the 2011 PBA Zone 6 YLD Caravan. PBA Zone 6 consists of Westmoreland, Fayette, Washington, and Greene Counties. This year the event is on Tuesday December 6 from 5:30 – 7:30 p.m. in the Meadow Lanes VIP Party Room, Meadows Casino, Racetrack Road, Washington, PA. There will be snacks, beverages, and bowling for all young lawyers in those counties. Specific support for the event is provided by the PBA, FCBA, and WBA. Please let me know if you will be able to attend. Thanks. I hope to see you there.
PBA YLD Zone 6 – Chair
HARRISBURG — The Supreme Court of Pennsylvania today joined state and national veterans’ groups in seeking volunteers to assist former servicemen and servicewomen who come into contact with the criminal justice system.
Chief Justice of Pennsylvania Ronald D. Castille and Justice Seamus P. McCaffery joined Michael Moreland of the U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs and representatives of Robert Morris University at the Pennsylvania Judicial Center in outlining plans to recruit mentors in support of the state Judiciary’s expanding number of Veterans Courts. Judges in those courts assign mentors to provide support and guidance to veterans caught up in the court system who are struggling with drug/alcohol, mental health and other difficulties. Pennsylvania currently has eight Veterans Courts in operation. Three additional counties have announced plans to form Veterans Courts, and at least four more courts are expected to open in 2012.
As part of the recruitment drive, it was announced today that an online training program — believed to be the first of its kind in the nation — has been launched to enhance access and increase the number of people wanting to become trained as mentors. The program was developed by AOPC staff and is being hosted at no cost to the state court system by Robert Morris University, which also has agreed to manage the site.
“Our nation has a commitment to provide whatever help we can to the brave men and women who have served our country,” Chief Justice Castille said. “This new online training program will make it easy and convenient for veterans to be part of a program to come to the aid of their fellow veterans who encounter difficulties when they return home from service. I am enormously grateful for the work of Robert Morris University in helping us develop something for Pennsylvanians that ultimately could serve as a role model for veterans’ courts nationwide.
From the Court Administrator's Office
All attorneys and Guardian Ad Litems on the court-appointed lists in juvenile delinquency, Children’s Bureau, termination of parental rights, and adoption cases must, beginning on January 1, 2011, annually receive three (3) hours of CLE credits devoted to juvenile delinquency court, the Child Protective Services Law on abuse, or the Adoption Act on terminations and adoptions. Proof of these CLE credits must be submitted to the Family Court Administrator.
Monday, October 31, 2011
A new mobile app allows smartphone users to search for crimes people have committed in Pennsylvania, from illegal parking to murder.
Docket In Your Pocket, which is available for iPhones, iPads and Android devices and sells for $2.99 on all platforms, allows users to search by name through a database of 32.5 million court records dating to 2000.
The records, drawn from the state judiciary's database of court dockets, include information about minor offenses, such as traffic tickets and noise violations, in addition to robberies, drug charges, assaults, rapes and murders. The app's inventor, Matt Haindfield, 40, said the app may be useful to singles for vetting dates and to parents for checking up on baby sitters.
The app also includes data about civil disputes of $12,000 or less, allowing users to search to see if, for example, a company was sued for violating a contract, Mr. Haindfield said. He is working county by county to make civil disputes of more than $12,000 available.
Mr. Haindfield, a civil litigation attorney in Iowa, said he thought of the app when he suspected a witness in a case to be lying about his criminal background. During a break in the witness's deposition, Mr. Haindfield attempted to search for the witness's criminal records on his iPhone.
"When operating in the mobile environment, it was very difficult, almost impossible, to get the information I needed," he said. Unable to find an existing app, he originally devised Docket in Your Pocket to be a tool for lawyers before realizing its potential general applications.
He started with Pennsylvania because the state's criminal data was already easily available and because the state has a large population of smartphone users, Mr. Haindfield said. He plans to launch similar apps in each state over the next few months, starting with other states with large populations of smartphone users and accessible court data, such as California, he said.
After that, he plans to release a "master app" that will search criminal records in all states, and possibly create similar software for other platforms in the future, such as a browser-based application, he said.
"We do have some ambitious development goals," he said.
On Tuesday, November 8, the voters of Westmoreland County will vote on the question of whether Common Pleas Court Judges Debra A. Pezze and Richard E. McCormick, Jr., should be retained for additional ten-year terms.
The Westmoreland Bar Association recently conducted a poll of its participating members to determine how the lawyers, who practice before these judges, answer the question of whether these two judges should be retained. Individual members were asked to vote either “in favor of” or “in opposition to” retention.
The results show that Westmoreland Bar Association attorneys overwhelmingly support both Judge Pezze and Judge McCormick, Jr., with a substantial majority “in favor of” retention in the November election. WBA President Mike Stewart announced the results as follows:
• Judge McCormick, Jr. – 93%
• Judge Pezze – 96%.
“Member polls regarding the retention of local judges are an important part of our mission of community service and
education,” said Attorney Stewart. “Our goal in publicizing these results is to help voters be better informed when retaining judges.”
By law, an incumbent judge can seek a new term in office on a yes-no retention basis in the general election. The election is non-partisan and non-political.
For additional information on the retention process, contact the Pennsylvania Administrative Office of Pennsylvania Courts.