|Dorothy, Dot and Maurice Dimmick made the Wills office a pleasure to visit.|
Judge Panella, for those of you who don't know, is something of a rock star to Northampton County workers. I found this out the hard way a few years ago when I met him to discuss his Sexual Violence Bench book, which he really wanted me to read for some reason.
As I sat there with my ham on rye, women shoved me aside as they fawned all over him. "I miss you so much," he'd say, and they'd giggle like schoolgirls as I pretended to read his book.Before long, half the courthouse was there, surrounding him.
One of them finally glanced at me, glared at the book and said, "Bernie, are you reading about sex crimes at lunch? You really are a pervert, you know?"
So I've been told.
|Judge Jack Panella, NorCo rock star|
He brought another book, by the way. I let others have it.
Judge Panella told a few stories about his time on the bench and as a lawyer.
Northampton County's First Million Dollar Verdict
One of the cases he remembers as a law clerk fresh out of law school is the lawsuit that resulted when Debra LaForm was swept away by raging Bethlehem Tp stormwaters in 1977. She was sucked into a drainpipe that was only 18" in circumference, and her body was found later in Nancy Run Creek.
During the trial, after LaForm's mother had finished her emotional testimony, Bethlehem Township's lawyer asked her if her daughter could swim.
"You can tack $500,000 onto the verdict after that question," Judge Franciosa whispered to Panella.
The verdict, $1 million, was the largest verdict at that time, in Northampton County.
I would break that record the following year, but as a defense lawyer.
Lipstick and Blood
Another case he mentioned was one over which he presided as a trial judge. The Devon Guzman murder. She had been involved in a lesbian relationship with two women. One of those women, along with her jealous husband, decided to kill her. She was grabbed from behind and a knife plunged into one side of her throat and then cut away, nearly severing her head from her shoulders. She resisted and bit through one of the arms holding her down from behind, right through the shirt and into the skin.
After the murder, Guzman's body was left in a car at the Hugh Moore Park in Easton, to make it look like a suicide. The murderers went home and put their clothing in the washing machine instead of discarding their bloody garments.
As police became suspicious, they were able to link the blood in the washing machine to Guzman, and even found traces of the lipstick she was wearing. They also noticed the bitemark in the shirt.
District Attorney John Morganelli decided to call a doctor and ask if someone could bite through clothing and into another person's skin.
This doctor told him that was entirely possible, and the mentioned that, as luck would have it, he had just treated someone with that kind of bitemark. The doctor was served with a subpoena and it turned out that the person he treated was the jealous husband whose clothing had been found in the washing machine.
Panella brought a book about that murder, Lipstick and Blood. That's the one I let others take.
Can a Man marry His Son?
The final case Judge Panella discussed involves an elderly gay couple who had been together for decades, long before a gay lifestyle was approved. Unable to marry, one of the men, aged 60, adopted his 40 year old gay lover because they were unable to marry.
Fast forward 20 years, and gay marriage is now legal. But a father can't marry his son, so this gay couple sought to have the adoption annulled. A trial judge said No, so that case is now before a three-judge panel that includes Judge Panella.
After Judge Panella finished his remarks, Master of Ceremonies Gerald E "Jerry" Seyfried decided to tell his own story, involving Judge Zito. A couple in the Slate belt were having domestic difficulties because the husband was always cheating on his wife. So she decided to snip off his penis, like Lorena Bobbit. She had the scissors, but instead of snipping at the male organ, she decided to stab it off. But she missed and hit the guy's thigh instead.
Though she was charged with felony aggravated assault, Seyfried reported that Judge Zito reduced the charges because it was only a "misdewiener."
The audience groaned, and I think a few people started throwing things and the meeting quickly ended.
It was great to see a lot of old friends there, including former Council Clerk Frank Flisser, former Executive Glenn Reibman, former Council member and Director of Human Services Ron Heckman, Jerry's lovely wife Julie, Regina, Dorothy, Dot and Maurice, to name a few.