PENN TOWNSHIP, CUMBERLAND COUNTY – Boiling Springs High School wrestling coach Rodney A. Wright has been ordered to stand trial in Cumberland County Court on a charge of possession of drug paraphernalia.
District Justice Vivian Cohick found enough evidence in a three-hour preliminary hearing Wednesday to order Wright, 44, to appear for formal arraignment Aug. 22 in Cumberland County Court on the misdemeanor charge. Wright was arrested April 11 after police found a marijuana pipe in a jacket alleged to be Wright’s in the mud room at Wright’s Penn Township home Jan. 14.
Wright, who is free on his own recognizance, is on sick leave from his teaching and coaching positions according to his attorney, Jay Abom of Carlisle.
Key witness Michealle Wright, Rodney Wright’s estranged wife, testified she called state police to their home Jan. 14 and pointed out a red jacket in the mud room where she said she saw her husband stash a marijuana pipe. Trooper David C. Long II testified he looked in the jacket and found a small wooden box and a metal pipe which was later determined to contain traces of marijuana.
Later the same day Michealle Wright signed a consent form allowing police to search their house and outbuildings. No more evidence was found, police testified.
Rodney Wright was not at home either time police were at his house, but returned moments after the search party left, Michealle Wright said. She said her husband was “very upset, nervous … and crying” when he learned about the search.
Cumberland County First Assistant District Attorney Jaime Keating presented evidence and testimony alleging that early the next morning Rodney Wright purchased gallons of water and fruit pectin at Wal-Mart in Carlisle. Drug-testing expert Paul Polensky testified that ingesting fruit pectin is believed by some to be a way to fool a drug test.
The district attorney also called police witnesses who testified Rodney Wright changed his story several times in subsequent interviews, first saying he’d never seen the paraphernalia and later saying he had seen it but wasn’t his.
In a closing statement, Abom argued the prosecution had not shown that Wright owned the drug pipe and intended to use it to consume marijuana, and implied that Michealle Wright had unrelated motives for calling police.
The purpose of a preliminary hearing is determine if there is enough evidence of crime to bring a witness to trial, and “clearly, the court felt there was sufficient evidence to go forward,” Keating said outside the courthouse.
“Mr. Wright is very disappointed,” Abom said after the hearing. “However, we recognize that the crux of the facts in this case are based on the commonwealth’s key witness, his estranged wife.”
He wasn’t permitted at the preliminary hearing to question Michealle Wright’s credibility, Abom said, but “at trial, a jury is entitled to disbelieve … they can consider whether she was motivated to lie.”
The district attorney’s office issued a statement in April denying that Wright was targeted because he’s well-known in the community. Wright issued his own statement through his attorney saying he expected to be cleared of the charge.
My Firm has been retained to represent Rodney Wright in defense of the Misdemeanor Paraphernalia charges filed against him. In response to many media inquires, Mr. Wright releases the following statement:
I am deeply disappointed that a contentious divorce with my wife of 19 years has spilled out into the public spotlight and has led to these allegations. The students and athletes entrusted to my care have always been my greatest priority. I am grateful for the outpouring of support from friends, family, and members of our school community. I intend to remain cooperative with the police. I look forward to clearing my name and having these charges dismissed.
Mr. Wright asked that any further questions be directed to me at my firm at 717.249.0900.
Abom & Kutulakis, L.L.C.
John A. Abom
Attorney for Rodney Wright
The presentation of witnesses and reports from a defense attorney led to the dismissal of the DUI portion of a homicide by vehicle charge, but a 23-year-old Landisburg man is still heading to Cumberland County Court for the death of a Landisburg woman.
Kevin C. Miller was initially charged with homicide by vehicle while driving under the influence and DUI controlled substance after a rollover crash that occurred on Sunnyside Drive in Middlesex Township on Oct. 14. The crash resulted in the death of Ashtyn Rideout, 23, of Landisburg, who was partially ejected from the vehicle.
Magisterial District Judge Susan Day heard testimony Wednesday from Middlesex Township police as well as from a forensic toxicology expert. Prosecution focused on the state of the crash, while defense argued the need for either the DUI component or the homicide by vehicle charge.
Sgt. James Patterson of the Middlesex Township Police Department testified first during the preliminary hearing Wednesday and said he was called to the scene and when he arrived, he found a man “knelt next to a woman who was partially trapped in a car,” he said. On cross examination, Patterson said Miller was holding Rideout’s hand at the time.
Patterson testified that no hazards were noticed on the road, and the crash was reported to police by a passer-by. Police initially reported that the vehicle went off the side of the road, where it struck a large rock and sideswiped a utility pole before rolling onto the driver side and eventually the roof.
He testified that Miller had told him he was driving the vehicle and was taking prescription medication, which Patterson said Miller had told him belonged to the Rideout.
Through defense witnesses and blood work, Miller’s attorney John Abom of Abom & Kutulakis, Carlisle, argued that the only medications found in Miller’s system were prescribed to him.
Prosecution introduced evidence in the form of the medical results of the blood test, which showed there was no alcohol present in his blood, but there were amounts THC and a generic form of Zoloft found.
Miller’s mother testified that Miller was been prescribed a generic Zoloft, which was the only prescription medication identified in the blood work.
Dr. Lawrence Guzzardi, an expert witness in forensic toxicology, also testified for the defense and is an expert in selective serotonin reuptake inhibitor drugs, such as Zoloft. He said the amount found in Miller’s blood work is well within therapeutic levels and would have no affect on driving.
Guzzardi also pointed out that the Delta-9 Carboxy THC found in Miller’s blood meant that Miller had smoked marijuana, but he was not under the influence of the substance. Guzzardi said Delta-9 Carboxy THC is the inactive metabolite of marijuana, which stays in the body for some time, but is not an active component and would not affect driving.
“It is a marker that someone used marijuana,” he said. “There is absolutely no evidence that marijuana had any effect on the driving ability of Mr. Kevin Miller. At some point, he had smoked, but was not under the influence at the time.”
“The test reflects that at some point he used marijuana, but was not under the influence at the time,” Abom said. “This was a very tragic, sad accident, but not every accident when someone is killed justifies criminal charges.”
When asked if Miller showed any signs of intoxication, Patterson said he had.
“I noticed when I watched him walk, there was a swagger to his walk, and when he stood in place, he swayed,” he said. “He said she had been drinking, and he was the designated driver.”
Patterson said a light odor of alcohol prompted him to initiate a preliminary breath test, which resulted in a negative reading for alcohol.
Miller was not arrested, but was taken to Carlisle Regional Medical Center for a blood test.
Rideout was taken by ambulance to CRMC, where she was later pronounced dead. An autopsy revealed blunt force trauma as the cause and manner of death. The autopsy also revealed that Rideout had taken prescription medication but had not taken the same medication as Miller.
An amended charge of homicide by vehicle, which does not have the DUI component attached, was added to the complaint during the hearing, and the initial homicide by vehicle while DUI charge was dismissed due to lack of evidence showing the intoxication level caused the crash.
Abom attempted to argue against the homicide by vehicle charge, saying that no evidence had been offered to prove that Miller had violated any traffic laws, causing the crash.
“One moment of inattentiveness and you’re hit, which causes an accident. There was no evidence of speeding, of weaving, any traffic violations,” he said, “This is an accident, not a crime.”
Daniel J. Sodus, senior assistant district attorney, argued that the added homicide by vehicle charge had been proven, as the crash itself showed a recklessness.
“It is not a far stretch of the imagination at all that a moment of inattentiveness caused this crash,” he said. “Many drivers are inattentive, use cellphones and such, that by itself does not cause you to flip your vehicle.”
The homicide by vehicle charge was bound over for Cumberland County Court of Common Pleas. A formal arraignment has been scheduled for 9 a.m. June 20.
Jeffrey Schmutzler, the Chambersburg High School Spanish teacher accused of sexual exploitation of children, is out on $60,000 bond.
Parents of students in the district have expressed concern that the school did not inform them of Schmutzler’s arrest. Many learned of the charges from abc27 news.
Superintendent Dr. Joseph Padasak says the district was informed of Schmutzler’s arrest via fax from the Attorney General’s Office around noon on Thursday. However, they did not receive any additional information.
“They gave us no details,” said Dr. Padasak.
Padasak also said names of any alleged victims have also not been released. The district is working to keep parents better informed and are now posting information on their website (http://www.chambersburg.k12.pa.us/education/components/whatsnew/default.php?sectiondetailid=27917&viewType=detail&id=3155)
This message was posted on the site today.
“The district has no additional information at this time, but will continue to work cooperatively with state and federal investigators … Student safety is and will always be our primary concern. It is critical that students continue to feel school is a safe place full of adults they can trust. Administrators, counselors and additional staff were present in the high school today to reassure students and employees and to address any and all concerns over this matter.”
The school said any student or parent who has a concern regarding this issue, should call Principal Buddy Chapel at 717-261-3329. If you have information you believe may be relevant to this investigation please contact the Chambersburg Area School District Police Chief Paul Weachter at 377-6773.
Schmutzler is accused of taking photos of his students, Photoshopping their faces onto child pornography and distributing them .
Carlisle Attorney Jason Kutulakis works with the group ChildFirst PA, which fights child abuse and protects children’s rights.
“You send your children off to school with anticipation that they will be in a safe environment and here you have the betrayal of that trust,” said Kutulakis.
Kutulakis he says although the charges against Schmutzler do not include physical abuse it doesn’t lessen the pain, especially if the images are on the internet.
“I don’t know of any mechanism whatsoever to recall or delete these images. Unfortunately, they will be in cyber space forever and its tragic. For the duration of life these images will be out there. Hopefully if these allegations are true the punishment is swift and severe,” said Kutulakis.
Schmutzler has been a teacher in the district since 2005. He worked at Northern Middle School first and then moved to the high school.
Last year, State Police say they investigated almost 1,500 child sex abuses in Pennsylvania. For those young victims involved, being interviewed during an investigation can be difficult.
It’s called the Child-First Program. It’s a class for those who deal with children, who are victims of crimes, and how to effectively communicate with them. Investigators and detectives were in a Derry Township classroom on Thursday, to learn how to best communicate with children, who are victims of heinous crimes.
Adams County District Attorney, Shawn Wagner says first responders are important in situations like these. “In child sexual abuse cases the first response is by far the most important one that we need, to see a crime.”
Some officials say child sex abuse crimes aren’t spoken of much. “For whatever reason, society seems to look the other way, want to ignore, or can’t believe these activities are taking place. They’re goal (investigators) is to provide services for healing and justice to the victims and holding the offenders accountable.” Said Pennsylvania State Police Commissioner Frank Noonan.
Wagner says helping the child have a normal childhood, is important. “Our ultimate goal is to allow a child to become a child again, when they’re the victim of child abuse.”
State Police, District Attorneys and other officials say this is designed to stregthen investigations and prosecute child abuse.
“Child abuse prosecutions are tough prosecutions, but of the 67 counties in Pennsylvania, only 20 have children advocacy centers, including Dauphin, Lancaster and York Counties.” Dauphin County District Attorney Ed Marsico explained.
Those centers, provide healing for victims and a commonplace between them and doctors, nurses, and police.
Dauphin County Commissioner George Hartwick, III says each county needs to have resources for the children. “There needs to be a dedicated revenue source to find child advocacy centers throughout PA.”
Hartwick says that funding should come from outside of fundraisers.
There is a bill in the house now, that if its passed, it would make those charged with crimes against children pay a fine and that money would go to child advocacy centers.
A hefty share of the NCAA’s $60 million fine against Penn State over the Jerry Sandusky child sex abuse scandal should be to pumped into child advocacy centers to help abuse victims, Dauphin County Commissioner George Hartwick III said Thursday.
“There could be no better utilization of those resources,” Hartwick said.
He made that proposal during a program at the Pennsylvania State Police Academy in Derry Township to tout the ChildFirst program.
That program, now a year old in the Keystone State, aims to unite the efforts of police, prosecutors and child welfare advocates to increase the effectiveness of child sexual abuse prosecutions while curbing the damage to the victims.
A main tenet of ChildFirst, which operates in 19 states, is to focus on the needs of the child.
For example, it advocates limiting interviews of abused children to specially-trained interviewers so the youngsters don’t have to repeat their accounts of molestation over and over and there is a reduced risk of their testimony being tainted by intended or inadvertent adult suggestions.
While the Sandusky case and the prosecutions of molestation claims against Catholic Church officials in Philadelphia have drawn public attention of late, many more abuse cases go through the courts unnoticed, State Police Commissioner Frank Noonan said.
The state police handled about 1,500 child sexual abuse cases in the past year, he said.
“How many of these have you heard of? Hardly any,” Noonan said.
“Society wants too look the other way,” he said. “It can’t believe these kinds of things are taking place.”
Thursday’s press conference coincided with a weeklong ChildFirst training program at the academy, one of nine such sessions being held at state police facilities across Pennsylvania this year.
Carlisle attorney Jason Kutulakis, a member of the Governor’s Task Force on Child Abuse, is one of the instructors.
ChildFirst stresses that young abuse victims be questioned by trained interviewers, not well-meaning amateurs, and to have their statements memorialized on a recording, Kutulakis said.
In the past, he said, it was not uncommon for a child to undergo a dozen interviews after reporting abuse. “That’s not child-centered. That’s not child-focused,” said Kutulakis, who is past president of the state Children and Youth Solicitors Association.
“I’ve been doing this for 25 years,” said Adams County District Attorney Shawn Wagner, president of the Pennsylvania District Attorneys Association. “In my experience, the system can exacerbate what the child has gone through.”
“In a child sexual abuse case, the first response is the most important one.” – Adams County District Attorney Shawn Wagner
That’s why the cooperative, interagency premise of ChildFirst is vital in rescuing child abuse victims and prosecuting their predators, he said.
“The most important approach we can have in child abuse cases is a collaborative one,” he said. “We must all work together. In a child sexual abuse case, the first response is the most important one.”
Concentrating on that first, pure interview with the victim and minimizing the legal system’s trauma not only gives the child a better chance at recovery, but provides stronger evidence against the molesters, Wagner said.
That approach works, Dauphin County District Attorney Ed Marsico agreed.
“We’re seeing fewer trials in these cases and more guilty pleas, so the children don’t have to go through a trial,” Marsico said.
Child advocacy centers are the best settings for interviewing and helping molested children, he, Wagner, Kutulakis and Hartwick said.
They called for a vast expansion of those centers in the state. Only about one-third of the state’s 67 counties have access to such centers, which are hubs for child-abuse interviews and for services to aid molestation victims.
All counties in the midstate have access to such centers. Adams, York and Lancaster counties have their own centers and the Harrisburg-based Children’s Resource Center operated by PinnacleHealth System serves Dauphin, Cumberland, Perry and Lebanon counties.
Those centers find their funding from a variety of not always stable sources, and Hartwick said Pinnacle actually loses money on its center. He said a government funding stream should be dedicated to support the operations.
“There is no excuse for short-changing children,” he said.
Others have the same idea. Two bills to finance aid for child abuse victims have passed the state House and are bound for the Senate.
One calls for shifting $400,000 left over from the Drug Abuse Resistance Education program to the child advocacy centers. The other proposes to create a fund by imposing a new $15 fee on everyone who pleads guilty to any crime.
Money aside, there should be only one overriding aim, Kutulakis said.
“We as a community must protect our most precious resource,” he said. “It has nothing to do with the natural gas here in Pennsylvania. It’s the children of the commonwealth.”
Editor’s Note: This is the first article in a series on divorce. Upcoming topics will include spousal support, child support and custody. The information contained in this column is for informational purposes only and not for the purpose of providing legal advice. You should contact your family attorney to obtain advice with respect to any particular issue or problem. If you have a general question about how the law relates to your family, let us know! We cannot respond to specific legal cases and situations.
The reality that your marriage is over is difficult, even in the most amicable situations. So, here you are. For whatever reason, you are ready to dissolve your marriage. But where to start?
Do your homework
Maybe you have you seen the advertisements claiming you can get a divorce for $299. These low-cost divorces are generally suited for people with no children, no marital property and, really, nothing complicated. This is not most marriages!
Our Family Law attorneys know that a typical divorce starts at about $3,000 per couple. This amount will go up if the divorce is contentious, there is marital property or children are involved.
And couples who have included a stay-at-home parent where one partner handled all the finances have it especially challenging. For their protection, we often tell potential clients, “You’re not ready. Go home, get your finances in order and then come back.”*
In that case, she advises them to make copies of every financial document available, including tax forms, stocks, 401K accounts and mortgages to create a paper trail in the event that money “disappears” during the divorce process. Any money in joint banking accounts is legally the property of both spouses.
It is completely acceptable to withdraw up to half of any money in these accounts–but not a penny more. Put this money in a separate bank account.
Then, if you don’t have credit, open a credit card to establish credit as an individual and open a checking account in your own name.
Dollars and sense
It’s also important to have an attorney. After you choose your legal respresentative, make sure you understand how you will pay for your legal fees.
Then, make sure you understand the process. Pennsylvania is called a Fault/No Fault divorce state. A Fault divorce claims someone did something wrong, like had an affair during the marriage. It takes longer than No Fault divorce. Allegations of wrong-doing must be proven.
There are also different processes when proceeding with divorce. For example, the Collaborative Process encourages compromising and removes the combativeness. It’s quicker and cheaper, but only an option when the parties are extremely amicable. Your attorney will fully explain these procedures and help you determine which one is best for you.
And if you have children, you will need to file an action for child support through the Office of Domestic Relations. This will help you with some of the children’s expenses while you resolve the divorce issues.
Divorce can become costly, complicated, and overwhelming. We liken it to a death—even when the divorce is desired, there is grief, guilt and a sense of loss. Children often struggle. Counseling is very beneficial, especially for children, during and after the divorce process.
Lawmakers are looking to continue protecting kids in Pennsylvania.
House Judiciary Committee’s Chairman Ron Marsico (R-Dauphin) and House Children and Youth Committee’s Chairwoman Kathy Watson (R-Bucks) hosted a joint hearing to obtain testimony from members of the Child Protection Task Force.
The task force presented its report to the committees and answered questions from the members in attendance.
The two committees hope to gather information and examine the recommendations in order to develop legislation pertaining to the findings of the task force.
One of the important aspects of the task force is a forensic interviewer who is trained to ask developmentally appropriate questions to the child.
The forensic interviewer interviews the child and that child’s interview is preserved by video if the need were to arise to go to court. With this method, the child would not have to be subjected to several interviews with multiple professionals; it’s a one stop shop process.
Philip J. McConnaughay, now bound for China, has carved out an impressive list of achievements as dean of Penn State’s Dickinson School of Law.
But around the historic home of the once-independent school, McConnaughay’s departure is being greeted with as much relief as sadness, and a chance to reset a sometimes tense partnership with Penn State.
McConnaughay said Thursday that he is leaving, effective Aug. 1, to become dean of the Peking University School of Transnational Law, based in Shenzhen.
There he will lead a school that seeks to fill a growing need for attorneys in China and offers graduate programs aimed at helping foreign attorneys do business there.
His 11-year tenure at Dickinson was touted by Penn State leaders Thursday as a time of growth for the law school as a whole, with the addition of state-of-the art facilities in Carlisle and State College, advanced technology to link them, and steady improvement in the quality and diversity of the student body.
Penn State President Rodney Erickson called McConnaughay an innovator who “can take great pride in all that has been accomplished under his watch.”
The positives are offset in Carlisle and with many Dickinson alumni by strongly held views that McConnaughay on multiple occasions bent university commitments to stay in Carlisle:
In 2003 it was McConnaughay who proposed moving the Carlisle-based law school to State College, just six years after Spanier and other university leaders had said the law school would remain in Carlisle “in perpetuity.” The dean raised the idea after seeing a capital campaign fall short of its targets and the school sliding in academic rankings. That proposal triggered a lengthy battle with alumni and the Rendell Administration that resulted in the current dual campus approach.
Last year, McConnaughay reopened the old wounds by proposing — as part of a response to declining law school applications nationally — to shrink first-year law classes and consolidate them at State College. The proposal was seen in some quarters as a new death knell for the Carlisle campus, already the smaller of the two law campuses.
Again, this came just four years after the university’s top leaders had signed contracts committing it to operate a three-year law program in Carlisle through at least 2020.
After receiving substantial pushback last fall, McConnaughay embarked on a new plan to seek separate accreditations for the Carlisle and State College law campuses, which would then continue to operate independently of each other.
The dean’s positions were perfectly legitimate when seen through the filter of a forward-looking administrator seeking the best for his school.
But Dickinson had a past, and Penn State — which had no law school prior to its original 1997 merger with the Carlisle school — had made promises.
As a result, some here could never shake the belief that McConnaughay pursued a State College-first mentality in running the law school from programming to student recruitment to hiring new faculty.
“There has been a trust issue with the dean, and it had to do with Penn State’s willingness to live up to its agreements,” said Chris Gulotta, a alum who helped structure agreements that allowed $25 million in state aid to flow to renovations at Carlisle as the former executive director of the Cumberland County Redevelopment Authority.
“I think this [change] will be very helpful because we will have a fresh perspective from Penn State’s vantage point… and maybe some different approaches for helping the Carlisle campus achieve parity with the University Park campus,” Gulotta said.
“It’s a great law school whether you have Dean McConnaughay in there or not,” said Carlisle attorney Jason Kutalakis, a Dickinson alum and frequent McConnaughay critic.
“Hopefully, some of the tension and animosity we have experienced in the past 10 years will leave with his departure.”
Plan to sever unified law school into two institutions stays on course, Penn State officials say.
Erickson told Penn Live today that Penn State’s decision to pursue separate accreditations for each campus from the American Bar Association stays in place for now, even though the split may not be fully executed until 2014.
But others sense the transition period creates a new period of fluidity.
For example, members of the Dickinson Law Association, the alumni group that holds veto power over some aspects of the law school’s operations through 2015 as per the dual campus agreement, are known to be lobbying quietly for the preservation of a single Dickinson Law School.
“It’s my hope that his [McConnaughay’s] successor will continue with the unified, two-campus program as it is,” said DLA member and attorney Hubert X. Gilroy, arguing that Dickinson can grow stronger simply with better marketing of the respective campuses’ strengths.
McConnaughay, reached by phone while traveling Thursday, said he prepares for his next assignment with no regrets about the changes he helped spur.
Controversy in Carlisle, he added, was a necessary by-product of changing the mindset at Dickinson to allow the merger with Penn State to work.
He reiterated that Dickinson School of Law was losing ground in the battle for quality students and financial resources to raise its game at the time Penn State initiated merger talks.
“I think the law school would have continued to struggle [without establishing separate campuses],” McConnaughay said. “The merger wouldn’t have made sense without fully embracing the possibility it provided in integrating with one of the world’s great research universities.”