Supreme Court of Pennsylvania

Pennsylvania Supreme Court piloting diversion program for veterans

From the Administrative Office of Pennsylvania Courts

HARRISBURG — Military veterans facing incarceration for minor criminal charges would have the option of supervised treatment under a pilot program of the Supreme Court of Pennsylvania.

The Magisterial District Judge Diversion program, aimed at veteran offenders, was initiated in Centre County in November and will be piloted in Monroe and Westmoreland counties starting Jan. 1.

Believed to be the only one of its kind in the country, the diversionary program is being tested in the three diverse counties with the goal of developing blueprints for possible expansion statewide. Guidelines were developed by a committee established by the AOPC.

“This program has been under development for over three years and is another step in the work we have been doing here in the courts of Pennsylvania, in partnership with the Veterans Administration, to assist returning veterans with their struggles to readjust,” said Supreme Court Justice Seamus McCaffery. “What we hope to do here is divert these veterans into treatment before their problems escalate to behaviors that would result in a case getting to the Court of Common Pleas.

“The earlier we intervene, the better for the veteran, the better for their family, the better for their community, and the better for the system.”

The move follows implementation of a similar statewide Veterans Court program in the Common Pleas Courts that also offers supervised treatment as an alternative to incarceration. By introducing earlier intervention at the magisterial district judge level, program planners hope to curb behavior from worsening among veterans with drug and alcohol abuse, anger management and post-traumatic stress disorder issues. In a collaborative arrangement with the state court system, the Veterans Administration provides treatment services.

A veteran charged with summary offenses — such as disorderly conduct, public drunkenness or harassment — could opt for supervised treatment, with the county district attorney’s office approval. The charges would be dismissed at the end of a successful six-month treatment period. If a defendant doesn’t comply with the terms of the program, the charges would be restored.

Pennsylvania has more than one million veterans statewide — including Chief Justice of Pennsylvania Ronald D. Castille and Justice McCaffery. Justice McCaffery is the Supreme Court’s liaison to the state’s problem-solving courts program, and has been a leading force in establishing Veterans Courts throughout the Commonwealth.

Pennsylvania Supreme Court strengthens witness protection

The Supreme Court of Pennsylvania is allowing indicting grand juries to be used statewide in certain cases to enhance safeguards against witness intimidation.

Under a new set of Rules of Criminal Procedure, an indicting grand jury would be permitted in lieu of preliminary hearings in cases in which witness intimidation has occurred, is occurring or is likely to occur. Judicial districts abandoned the use of indicting grand juries nearly 20 years ago in favor of other procedural options authorized under an amendment to the Pennsylvania Constitution. The new rules permit their resumption.

Any of Pennsylvania’s 60 judicial districts could petition the Supreme Court for approval to use the new procedures under the rules that take effect in 180 days. Once Supreme Court approval is given to a district, a prosecutor could seek approval of the president judge on a case-by-case basis to use an indicting grand jury, but only in cases involving witness intimidation.

“The intimidation of witnesses in criminal proceedings threatens the integrity of the criminal justice system and puts justice at risk,” Chief Justice of Pennsylvania Ronald D. Castille said in announcing the new rules. “Providing more flexibility to ensure the safety of witnesses who come forward to testify in cases involving violent acts recognizes their personal safety and promotes greater trust and confidence in the judicial system.”

A “grand” jury is so named because 23 jurors and up to 15 alternates would serve on the panel, rather than the standard 12-member trial jury. An indicting grand jury determines whether to indict the defendant, so that the defendant would face trial in the Court of Common Pleas. The new rules do not impact the defendant’s constitutional right to confrontation since the defendant is still entitled to confront his or her accusers at trial. Indicting grand juries are used in a number of other states and federal courts.

The effort to curtail witness intimidation came from a panel of legal experts the Supreme Court appointed to address issues challenging the Philadelphia criminal court system. The commission of judges, prosecutors and defense lawyers, led by Supreme Court Justice Seamus P. McCaffery, recommended re-instituting the indicting grand jury in Pennsylvania as a way to address the problem of witness intimidation.

The comprehensive set of new rules and related rules changes incorporating the recommended procedures was developed by the Supreme Court’s advisory Criminal Procedural Rules Committee.

(For a copy of the new rules: http://www.pacourts.us/T/SupremeCourt/SupremePostings.htm)

Nation’s first online training for Veterans Courts mentors launched by Supreme Court of Pennsylvania

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.

Attorney-Client Privilege Goes Both Ways

From the March 2011 Attorney E-Newsletter of The Disciplinary Board of the Supreme Court of Pennsylvania

Supreme Court Declares Two-Way Street for Attorney-Client Privilege

On February 23, 2011, the Supreme Court of Pennsylvania decided an important issue of the law of attorney-client privilege in the case of Gillard v. AIG Insurance Company. The issue presented was whether the attorney-client privilege established in 42 Pa. C.S.A. §5928 applies to communications from attorney to client which are not derivative (i.e., which do not incorporate confidential communications from the client).

The case involved allegations of bad faith by the insurance company. In the course of discovery, the plaintiff sought production of all documents in the file of the law firm representing the defendant insurance company. In its response to the discovery, the defendant’s counsel redacted documents prepared by the law firm, asserting attorney-client privilege. The lower court ordered the redacted documents produced and the Superior Court affirmed, relying upon the holding in Nationwide Mutual Insurance Company v. Fleming, 924 A. 2d 1259 (Pa. Super. 2007) that the statutory attorney-client privilege applies only to communications from client to attorney.

Supreme Court of Pennsylvania Calls on Attorneys to Provide More Public Service

HARRISBURG, January 14, 2011—Chief Justice of Pennsylvania Ronald D. Castille has issued a call to the Commonwealth’s 70,000 attorneys to volunteer more of their time and money to help ensure Pennsylvanians with limited financial means receive needed civil legal representation.

Saying the Commonwealth is “dealing with a civil legal aid crisis,” the chief justice reminded Pennsylvania attorneys in a letter distributed through the cooperation of the Pennsylvania Bar Association (PBA) of their professional obligation to support services to citizens of limited financial means —otherwise known as pro bono service.

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