Northeast Times

Judge frets over mountain of bench warrants

Start­Frag­ment

When Com­mon Pleas Court Judge Chris Wogan last vis­ited the Burholme Com­munity Town Watch and Civic As­so­ci­ation, he as­sailed the Clerk of Quarter Ses­sions of­fice.

Wogan, a former state rep­res­ent­at­ive, called it a “very poorly run of­fice.” He noted that the most egre­gious acts were com­mit­ted by se­lec­ted court clerks who, for some reas­on, wouldn’t for­ward a de­fend­ant’s full sen­tence to the pris­on sys­tem.

In Oc­to­ber 2010, the city ab­ol­ished the of­fice, and its du­ties are now handled by the First Ju­di­cial Dis­trict. Wogan said the courts are do­ing a bet­ter job run­ning the of­fice than Vivi­an Miller, whom he labeled a “Demo­crat­ic ward lead­er from West Phil­adelphia.”

Last week, Wogan re­turned to speak to the folks from Burholme.

This time, he ex­pressed con­cern about the 47,000 act­ive bench war­rants in Phil­adelphia. He said some of them are 18- to 20-year-old “vi­ol­ent thugs” who are able to out­run po­lice of­ficers, but some­how col­lect So­cial Se­cur­ity dis­ab­il­ity be­ne­fits.

In Wogan’s courtroom, ab­scond­ers are tried in ab­sen­tia, des­pite claims by some de­fense at­tor­neys that their cli­ents could be dead or in the hos­pit­al.

The judge re­called a case of a home in­va­sion rob­bery. Dur­ing each break, the miss­ing de­fend­ant’s moth­er called him on the phone to give him an up­date. A jury found the de­fend­ant guilty, and Wogan gave him a sen­tence of up to 70 years in pris­on.

On an­oth­er sub­ject, Wogan called the city’s pro­ba­tion and pa­role de­part­ment a “joke” and a “trav­esty,” but said many of­ficers care about pub­lic safety and do a good job.

The prob­lem, he said, is that the pro­ba­tion files of re­peat crim­in­als are of­ten not opened. He cited one con­vict who’d been ar­res­ted for four drug felon­ies. He com­mit­ted three rapes while on pro­ba­tion and landed in Wogan’s courtroom.

“I gave him every day I could,” he said.

Wogan sen­tenced the 40-year-old de­fend­ant to 67 years in pris­on.

“He prob­ably won’t be rap­ing any­body when he’s 107 when he’s pa­roled,” the judge said.

On a re­lated mat­ter, Wogan is eager to see the fi­nal re­port on se­cur­ity at Phil­adelphia pris­ons. The pris­ons are get­ting a closer look fol­low­ing the Oc­to­ber 2010 shoot­ing death of Lawndale jew­el­er Bill Glatz by an es­caped con­vict.

On a bright­er note, Wogan said Phil­adelphi­ans should be con­fid­ent of the op­er­a­tions of Com­mon Pleas Court un­der the lead­er­ship of Pres­id­ent Judge Pamela Pry­or Dembe and Ad­min­is­trat­ive Judge John J. Her­ron.

In oth­er news from the April 12 meet­ing:

• Mem­bers ob­served a mo­ment of si­lence for Robert Neary and Daniel Sweeney, the two Phil­adelphia fire­fight­ers who died last week while re­spond­ing to a massive blaze in Kens­ing­ton.

• There was a dis­cus­sion about the pending move of Story­book Chil­dren’s Cen­ter from a shop­ping cen­ter at 7722 Dun­gan Road to the Pente­cost­al Church of Phil­adelphia, at 7101 Pen­n­way St.

The move is be­ing made be­cause a shop­ping cen­ter ten­ant has ex­pan­sion plans. Story­book of­fers child care, preschool and be­fore- and after-school care to 150 young­sters.

Of­fi­cials from the church and Story­book at­ten­ded the meet­ing.

The civic group took a tour of church grounds and saw an over­flow­ing Dump­ster and oth­er prop­erty main­ten­ance is­sues.

“There was trash all over the place,” said Al Tauben­ber­ger, pres­id­ent of the group.

Neigh­bors were to join Tauben­ber­ger and oth­er civic group mem­bers at a fol­low-up vis­it to the church this past Tues­day night.

“Clean­li­ness is next to god­li­ness,” Tauben­ber­ger told church rep­res­ent­at­ives at the civic meet­ing.

A hear­ing is sched­uled for Wed­nes­day, April 18, in front of the Zon­ing Board of Ad­just­ment.

Al­though the civic group ap­peared will­ing to sup­port the pro­pos­al, one Story­book em­ploy­ee was moved to tears dur­ing the drawn-out dis­cus­sion.

• Lt. Frank Schneider and com­munity re­la­tions of­ficer Mark Mroz, of the 2nd Po­lice Dis­trict, fielded ques­tions about il­leg­al com­mer­cial truck park­ing.

The po­lice of­fi­cials told the crowd that the dis­trict has a fo­cus on curfew and tru­ancy vi­ol­at­ors. More than 120 of­fend­ers have been cited for each vi­ol­a­tion in the last month.

In Phil­adelphia, curfew dur­ing the school year is 8 p.m. for any­one age 13 and young­er, 9 p.m. for 14- and 15-year-olds and 10 p.m. for 16- and 17-year-olds.

Curfew in the sum­mer is 9 p.m. for kids age 13 and young­er, 10 p.m. for 14- and 15-year-olds and 11 p.m. for 16- and 17-year-olds.

• Present­a­tion BVM will host a Night at the Races to be­ne­fit the Sem­per Fi Fund, which as­sists wounded mil­it­ary troops, this Sat­urday at 6:45 p.m. in the church hall, at 100 Old Sol­diers Road in Chel­ten­ham.

Tick­ets cost $20. There will be 10 video horse races, food, beer and raffles.

The Burholme Town Watch/civic as­so­ci­ation donated $100.

For tick­ets and more in­form­a­tion, call 215-500-5965, send an e-mail to ron­camp1954@gmail.com  or vis­it sem­per­fi­fund.org

Any­one who wants to make a dona­tion can send checks to Sem­per Fi Fund, c/o Present­a­tion BVM Church, 100 Old Sol­diers Road, Chel­ten­ham, PA 19012.

• Don Garecht, a Burholme res­id­ent who works for city elec­tions com­mis­sion­er Al Schmidt, ex­plained that voters will be asked to pro­duce photo iden­ti­fic­a­tion dur­ing the April 24 primary.

Any­one without a photo ID will still be able to vote. They will re­ceive in­form­a­tion on ob­tain­ing a free ID.

A new state law re­quir­ing a photo ID to vote will go in­to ef­fect for the Nov. 6 gen­er­al elec­tion.

In re­sponse to a ques­tion, Garecht said the com­mis­sion­ers have an on­go­ing ef­fort to in­crease the num­ber of han­di­capped-ac­cess­ible polling loc­a­tions.

• Nick Himebaugh, an aide to state Rep. Brendan Boyle, an­nounced that the law­maker would lose the Burholme di­vi­sions of his dis­trict un­der a pre­lim­in­ary plan ap­proved last week by the Le­gis­lat­ive Re­ap­por­tion­ment Com­mis­sion.

Himebaugh ad­ded that Boyle’s of­fice can pro­cess re­quests to the city’s 311 non-emer­gency sys­tem. The of­fice phone num­ber is 215-676-0300.

• Burholme Com­munity Town Watch and Civic As­so­ci­ation will meet on Thursday, May 10, at 7 p.m., at United Meth­od­ist Church of the Re­deem­er, at Cottman and Lawndale av­en­ues. ••

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You can reach at twaring@bsmphilly.com.

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