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Nazareth, Pa., United States

Tuesday, November 22, 2016

DA Wants Conflicted Clerk, Biased Judge, Off Overdose Homicide

I've written pretty much in recent weeks about Northampton County's judicial law clerks. I've told you that, in addition to salaries that are much higher than they should be, these clerks have pocketed $110,225 in divorce stipends since 2010 for doing what their job already requires. In addition, two of them do legal work for attorneys who practice in this county. It's a conflict of interest that the court refuses to recognize. In fact, our judges have refused to tell lawyers that two of their opinion writers may, in fact, be working on the side for an attorney who is up against them.

When County Council sought information about payments from the Controller, President Judge Stephen Baratta fired off a condescending missive, telling Council to mind its own business and that it has no authority to set salaries. It was a misstatement of the law, a point confirmed by Council Solicitor Phil Lauer.

This issue is not going away. In fact, it's been placed on the front burner, thanks to a motion filed yesterday by DA John Morganelli. It involves a homicide case against a heroin dealer accused of delivering a fatal overdose in Forks Township.

According to this motion, Morganelli was forced to ask the entire Northampton County bench to recuse itself because there were "a number of contacts and communications between the defendant's family and at least two judges."

Think about that for a moment. We're not talking about some incidental contact with a judge at the food store. The DA has referred to a number of contacts between the defendant's family and at least two judges.

What were these judges thinking? Seriously. I doubt they were discussing the weather. A third judge, Jennifer Sletvold, was Phil Lauer's law partner. He represents the defendant. So she's out, too.

As a result of Morganelli's motion, a senior judge from Philly, John Braxton, was brought in to hear the case. But that presented another problem because his law clerk, Catherine Kollet, is a criminal defense attorney who practices in Northampton County and is in fact a court-appointed lawyer who represents indigent defendants when there is a conflict with the Public Defender's Office. Since she represents criminal defendants and was appointed by a court that has already recused itself, Morganelli argues it would be impossible for her to act as a "neutral, judicial law clerk."

Braxton refused to remove her, claiming she is his clerk, and has worked for him in other counties.

He then reduced Fisher's bail from $500,000 to $100,000, even though evidence in a prior drug delivery case shows that he failed to comply with bail conditions. Fisher was unleashed on the public the very next day.

Morganelli did some research and discovered that Kollet's participation as a judicial law clerk is a direct violation of a Supreme Court Rule that bans lawyers from being law  clerks in the counties where they practice. Even more disturbing, Braxton's statement that Kollet works for him in other counties is demonstrably false, according to Morganelli.

So let's sum up. The entire Northampton County bench has been forced to recuse itself in a homicide case because two judges were unable to keep their mouths shut when approached by the defendant's family. Then a clerk is brought into the case who actively practices criminal law in the very county where she is advising the court in a criminal matter. Senior Judge Braxton refuses to disqualify her, even though a Supreme Court rule specifically bars law clerks from practicing law in the county where they clerk. He also states falsely that Kollet is his clerk in other counties. Then he unleashes a heroin dealer accused of delivering a fatal overdose on an unsuspecting public in the middle of an epidemic.

Nobody is above the law. Not overpaid law clerks. Not judges who engage in ex parte conversations with the family of an accused killer. Not a Senior Judge from Philly who thumbs his nose at a Supreme Court rule regarding the use of law clerks, and compounds that error with misrepresentations about using that clerk in other counties.

Morganelli, who is not above the law,  had a duty to file this motion. He is reacting to a failure in a system that is supposed to deliver justice.


Anonymous said...

Score; District Attorney 1 County Judges 0

Bernie O'Hare said...

They have circled the wagons, but seem to be shooting each other.

Anonymous said...

Follow the money, it is always about the money. Just another dollar more. Absolutely amazing. Another reason folks get discouraged with the public sector. If you think not you didn't pay attention to this election and why people were so pissed off they would elect a clown like Trump.

Anonymous said...

Braxton has become known as Northampton Counties "hired gun" to come in and do the dirty work.

Its disturbing and sad that out Judicial courts at the county level have THE STENCH OF A RICO CESS POOL.

Those in robes had better wake up and realize that they are not exempt from RICO just look at Luzerne County.

I think that its only matter of time before you read of a FEDERAL INVESTIGATION into the Northampton County Courts jointly between two federal agencies-

Why are there four new faces seen asking questions at the Courthouse? Who are three men and one woman?

JoAnn Kennedy said...

To Anonymous

I brought RICO up to FED Judge Stengel in summer of 2015. The federal complaint named the DA's office and two judges. AND RICO was mentioned. Maybe it needs to be revisited?

JoAnn Kennedy said...

Not to mention Fraud upon the court Bulloch vs. United States which is directed at the judicial machinery itself In addition added Throckmorton to the fed complaint as well which is a due process case “Fraud vitiates the most solemn contracts, documents, and even judgments” United States v. Throckmorton, 98 U.S. 61. (underline emphasis).

Anonymous said...

Ok...this must be said, and will almost definately be deleted, but here it goes. Step back and take a look at the larger picture in this case in point. Being politically correct , in an of itself is a state crime. It is a state crime, when political correctness is used to "circle the wagons" to effect the underlying cause .

John Morganelli is being politically correct in this case. Why? Because heroin is a widespread epidemic, and all of the politicos want something done about it. Instead of direct action to stop the epidemic itself, we now see nonsense political prosecution of those who participate in distribution, being held now to the felony in death related cases. Does John know that heroin overdoses resulting in death is not because of the heroin, but because of tylenol being cut in to the mix, which then shuts down the liver and causes death?

Will John be rounding up every single doctor in this county who actively distributes the gateway drugs to heroin? Like morphine, percocet, oxycontin, vicodin and more?

This follows the same nonsense of gun manufactuer's being held responsible for death, when guns are used in crimes. John must learn that being politically correct is a state crime which has no basis in any civilized society.

Likewise, a sanctuary city is being politically correct, and that is a state and Federal crime. Political correctness kills, and has to stop right now.

Anonymous said...

It is more than appropriate to the above anonymous post, to air that opinion, but that person misses the bigger picture, ie, the elephant in the living room. After John got tossed like an ally cat into a dumpster in the AG race, he has been infected by Stockholm syndrome, in that he now is pushing the politics of the superior Josh Shapiro, who kicked him to the curb.

John comes to the back door of the AG office, with his cat claws still intact, sees no "doggie door" to get inside, and just paws, scratches and scrapes at the paint, in hopes of finding a way inside that greener pasture that he has dreamed about for ooohhhh so long.

I see John still has no problem wasting resources on utter political bullshit.

Bernie O'Hare said...

9:56 is Constable cRaZy. Morganelli filed charges in the Fisher case in January of last year, long before Shapiro announced that he was making heroin a priority, so her timing is a tad off as usual. What she does not like is that he authorized several successful prosecutions against her, so she snipes at him anonymously.

And 9:10, you are off topic. The heroin epidemic is only tangentially relevant here. The subject is a bench that seems to think it is above the law.

Anonymous said...

#notyourconstable, just a spectator that cannot devulge his identity. I guessed you missed this gaggle of politicos who want to stop heroin.

My guess is Josh , John and the bloated big mouth in LC will stumble in work boots and hard hats down to the new border wall coming thanks only to Trump. They can blabber and wine and dine while drinking taxpayer funded starbucks around a conference table all they want, yet will have no effect on a very cheap drug that many love, and is brought to you by sanctuary cities and their ilk.

They should keep chugging the starbucks

Anonymous said...

One county to the west, I personally believe these same criminally corrupt actors are helping with the importing logistics of this the most henious form of terrorism within the inner city limits of the triboro, triplets cesspool surpiZe! I see on this particular post the are implicating the scrpt writterZ designerZ of oxicandyland were the manna falls from the sky in the forms of nonprofit for profit as well the old circus trix, 123 LLC?
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