Public education campaign begins on how to report child abuse

The Pennsylvania Bar Association launched a public education campaign Monday, focusing on the right steps to take when it comes to reporting child abuse.

The campaign is aimed at showing what’s expected under the Pennsylvania child protective services law.

Under the law, adults working with children must report suspected child abuse or they could face thousands of dollars in fines.

“We’re trying to highlight how easy it is to report perceived instances of child abuse,” commented Tom Wilkinson. “The access and resources that are available, by the people of the Department of Welfare who are available around the clock and answer those kinds of questions and concerns and investigate good faith reports of child abuse.”

Courtesy of CBS21 -Nate Wardle

Jason Kutulakis was a member of the Pennsylvania Supreme Court Juvenile Procedural Rules Committee (2001-2007) and the Pennsylvania Bar Association’s Children’s Rights Committee. He was selected by the Pennsylvania Bar Association Children’s Rights Committee. as the 2006 Child Advocate of the Year for his outstanding advocacy work on behalf of children throughout the Commonwealth. He is the solicitor for Dauphin County Social Services for Children and Youth.

Pennsylvania Bar Association launches public education campaign about reporting suspected child abuse

Thirty-four children died in Pennsylvania last year from child abuse, and more than 3,400 cases of reported child abuse were substantiated. A total of 24,378 cases of suspected abuse were reported.

Those statistics along with the high-profile case of Jerry Sandusky’s child sex abuse conviction shine the light on this problem and the need to raise awareness of it. Representatives from the Pennsylvania Bar Association and other children’s advocates gathered in the Capitol Rotunda to announce the launching of a public education campaign to encourage anyone who has a reasonable suspicion of a child being abused to report it.

A copy of an informational brochure talking about child abuse and how to report it is available from the bar association’s website.

“Bottom line, all of us have a duty to protect children,” said Tom Wilkinson Jr, president of the Pennsylvania Bar Association.

The campaign’s message is to take action if a case of child abuse is suspected. That involves calling ChildLine, which is staffed around the clock, at 800-932-0313.

“You don’t have to give your name to make a report about child abuse,” Wilkinson said.

Bruce Beemer, chief of staff to state Attorney General Linda Kelly, said mandated reporters, or those whose professions or positions bring them in contact with children, have a legal obligation to report suspected abuse. But those who are not mandated, he said, “certainly have a moral obligation to step up and do the right thing even if the law doesn’t require it.”

Among the questions that are often asked is whether people can get in trouble for reporting suspected abuse, Beemer said “the standard under which a person is permitted to report without triggering any sort of problem is reasonable suspicion. It’s a very low standard and intentionally so because we want people to step forward and protect children.”

He said another question is whether someone can get in trouble if the suspected abuse they report is unfounded. “If you are acting in good faith out of concern for the welfare of the child, you will not be sued or prosecuted successfully. On the other hand, if you make your report out of malice or to intentionally damage someone by lying about them, you very likely will have legal troubles and you will have earned them.”

Courtesy of JAN MURPHY, The Patriot-News

Jason Kutulakis was a member of the Pennsylvania Supreme Court Juvenile Procedural Rules Committee (2001-2007) and the Pennsylvania Bar Association’s Children’s Rights Committee. He was selected by the Pennsylvania Bar Association Children’s Rights Committee. as the 2006 Child Advocate of the Year for his outstanding advocacy work on behalf of children throughout the Commonwealth. He is the solicitor for Dauphin County Social Services for Children and Youth.

Encouraging Folks to Report Child Abuse

Jason Kutulakis Featured – Courtesy Fox43 News

Jason Kutulakis was a member of the Pennsylvania Supreme Court Juvenile Procedural Rules Committee (2001-2007) and the Pennsylvania Bar Association’s Children’s Rights Committee. He was selected by the Pennsylvania Bar Association Children’s Rights Committee. as the 2006 Child Advocate of the Year for his outstanding advocacy work on behalf of children throughout the Commonwealth. He is the solicitor for Dauphin County Social Services for Children and Youth.

Child abuse investigators advocate establishment of standard methods to earn trust

The approach investigators use in talking with possible victims of child abuse can make all the difference in whether the case makes it to court, Harrisburg attorney Jason Kutulakis said.

Take the wrong tack, and the child “will probably shut down,” the founder of the nonprofit ChildFirst Pennsylvania program told about 40 professionals from throughout the region gathered at the state police Southwest Regional Training Center on Wednesday in Unity.

Those attending, ranging from police officers and prosecutors to child abuse caseworkers and forensic interviewers, are taking part in a weeklong ChildFirst Pennsylvania workshop offering training to first-responders in cases of suspected child abuse.

Kutulakis said the program was popular long before the Jerry Sandusky child abuse scandal broke in State College last year.

“We’ve been overwhelmed by the response we’ve had since we started in 2009 —and that was long before the most-publicized cases. We’re already booked into 2013,” Kutulakis said.

Child welfare advocates are using the workshops to institute standard methods for dealing with these cases.

“It’s a very specialized field. And these type of issues are very sensitive and also very difficult. This type of training is really beneficial,” state police spokesman Steve Limani said.

Derry Police Chief Randy Glick brought in the department’s canine named Blade, who interacted with a group of about 20 children between the ages of 4 and 8 from throughout Westmoreland County.

Later in the day, workshop participants conducted interviews with the children to practice what they learned.

“It’s part of the rapport building … trying to get the kid to trust them so they’ll open up,” Kutulakis said.

The program e_SEmD offered in 17 states nationwide e_SEmD promotes conducting “team interviews” using a forensic interviewer to perform a single recorded interviews so the child will only have to tell the story one time instead of talking to police, then a child services investigator, then the prosecutor.

Later in the week, professional actors playing teenage victims will interviewed.

Participants will be schooled in the art of testifying in court and preparing young victims to testify.

The program is sponsored by the Pennsylvania Children and Youth Solicitors Association in concert with the Pennsylvania District Attorneys Association and the state Department of Public Welfare. State police are providing training facilities at various locations throughout the state.

More information is available at

Paul Peirce is a staff writer for Trib Total Media. He can be reached at 724-850-2860 or

Paul Peirce – Triblive

Let’s be honest about Penn State Law’s plan for Carlisle campus

If the latest proposal for the Penn State Dickinson School of Law goes through, the likelihood is there won’t be a law school in Carlisle in about a decade.
Building Dedication at Penn State LawMore than 500 people celebrated the dedication of The Lewis Katz Hall and H. Laddie Montague Jr. Law Library at The Penn State Dickinson School of Law in Carlisle in 2009.

I know law school dean Philip McConnaughay says Penn State remains “fully committed” to Carlisle. His heart is likely in the right place, but his plan would dramatically alter Carlisle. The central Pennsylvania community, not to mention the school’s alumni, needs to have an honest discussion about this shift.

The dean’s intention is to have all first-year law students at University Park, possibly as early as 2013. That right there signals the death of the law school in Carlisle. Once a student matriculates at University Park, he or she isn’t likely to leave.

Dean McConnaughay argues that students will want to come to the Carlisle campus to take advantage of specialty offerings such as centers focusing on child advocacy, law and development and state and local government. When pressed, the dean admitted that “maybe” a typical student would come to Carlisle. Even then, they are only likely to be here for a semester or even a summer.

In other words, the Carlisle campus would go from a vibrant place with hundreds of law students here for three years to one that has a few dozen (in a best-case scenario) here for a few weeks. It will be the end to stories such as that of Rep. Stephen Bloom’s (R-Carlisle). He came to the law school in the 1980s and stayed, raising a family, starting a business and ultimately getting involved in public life. That kind of story is repeated over and over in this area.

In the new scheme, Penn State Dickinson School of Law students will probably wonder why the school is even called Dickinson because the majority will spend their time exclusively at University Park. They will have little to no connection to Carlisle during or after their school days.

The marriage of Dickinson Law and Penn State never has been rosy since the 1997 agreement. Those who lived in the area in 2004-05 will likely recall the firestorm when Penn State last tried to move the law school to University Park. The university even threatened to walk away entirely from Dickinson.

After much political pressure and horse trading, a new agreement was signed to make the law school have two complete campuses. As any student of history knows, “separate but equal” usually doesn’t turn out well. The Carlisle campus received a $50 million facelift, but University Park got a $60 million new building. As one recent alum told me, “That was the beginning of the end for Carlisle.”

A remnant of that dual-campus agreement is that the law school is legally bound to stay in Carlisle until at least 2025. The dean has cleverly tried to recast the Carlisle campus as an international one. He envisions the LLM program, a one-year degree for foreign lawyers to learn the American legal system and prep for the bar exam, in Carlisle.

It would basically turn Carlisle into a continuing education center. It’s a decent revenue-generating idea, but it’s not exactly a law school.

This saga isn’t over yet. The dean must secure approval from various bodies to move all the first years to University Park.

“The dean can’t just move it because he would like to do it,” state Sen. Pat Vance, R-Cumberland, says. She’s open-minded to hearing more about the proposal, but “The prime objective is to keep the law school in Carlisle.”

Outside local lawmakers, there might be more sympathy to the dean’s idea in the state’s halls of power because of costs. It never made financial sense to run two fully fledged campuses. The dean is pitching his solution as a way to make the law school, which the university subsidizes by about $5 million a year, into a revenue-neutral operation. It doesn’t look good for Carlisle unless the alumni speak up again.

Perhaps the most interesting solution I have heard comes from Jason Kutulakis, an alum who co-founded Abom and Kutulakis in HEATHER LONG, The Patriot-News

‘Zombie Muhammad’ case won’t die

Just when you thought you were safe from ridiculous news…

The Zombie Muhammad is back – with support from a politically connected conservative Philadelphia “think tank” – demanding that Pennsylvania’s Judicial Conduct Board revisit a controversial decision of Mechanicsburg Magisterial District Judge Mark Martin and remove Martin from the bench.

Last October, Ernest Perce V – a self-professed atheist – marched in the Mechanicsburg Halloween parade as “Zombie Muhammad” with a sign around his neck reading “Muhammad of Islam” on the front.

This is the same Ernest Perce who subsequently designed a billboard erected in Harrisburg’s Allison Hill neighborhood depicting a slave with a spiked metal collar around his neck and the Biblical inscription “Slaves, obey your masters.” Homer Floyd, the former director of the Pennsylvania Human Relations Commission said the billboard “bordered on a hate crime,” and it was quickly removed by the company that owned it.

Judge Martin became involved with Perce because as the atheist was marching as “Zombie Muhammad” a man emerged from the crowd watching the parade and attempted to pull the sign off him, which Perce described as an assault and an attempt to choke him.

The man, 46-year-old Talaag Elbayomy, was a Muslim offended by the display. Perce said he had been attacked, and police filed a summary harassment charge against Elbayomy.

Judge Martin, a lieutenant colonel in the Army Reserve who had served two tours in Iraq, dismissed the charge, noting that the law required an “intent to harass.” But Judge Martin went further, telling Perce his “Zombie Muhammad” get-up and actions in the parade not only made him look like a “doofus” but also were deeply offensive to others.

The judge attempted to explain to Perce why his actions could be offensive, saying “I think our forefathers intended that we use the First Amendment so that we can speak our mind, not to piss off other people and other cultures, which is what you did.”

Perce subsequently posted an edited recording of the hearing to the Internet in which it sounded like Judge Martin claimed he too was Muslim.

Judge Martin is a life-long Lutheran.

Nevertheless, the Internet posting inflamed conservative activists who alleged a Muslim judge in Mechanicsburg was attempting to apply Sharia Law to citizens of the United States.

The hate mail and death threats began to pour in, and the Administrative Office of Pennsylvania Courts moved Judge Martin’s office from Mechanicsburg to the county courthouse in Carlisle for the judge’s safety.

A complaint about Judge Martin was filed with the Judicial Conduct Board, which investigated and issued a private “letter of caution” to the judge in June.

Perce – with the backing of the Legal Project of the Middle East Forum – is now demanding the case be revisited and Judge Martin removed from the bench because, they claim, “He used his bench as a bully pulpit to enforce Islamic anti-blasphemy laws” and that his decision “is part of a larger and unfortunate trend to bring Sharia law into our American court system.”

The Middle East Forum is a conservative, pro-Israel group that also runs a “campus watch” to monitor Middle Eastern Studies programs on university campuses. Its board of directors includes Bob Guzzardi, a Philadelphia lawyer and political financier who has supported Rick Santorum and multiple conservative candidates for the Pennsylvania Legislature.

Judge Martin is currently in training preparing for deployment to Afghanistan.

His attorney Jay Abom said, “I don’t think anyone can credibly attack his love of the Constitution or this country and the things for which both stand.”

Abom also said the Judicial Conduct Board investigation found no probable cause to believe Judge Martin issued his ruling in any improper fashion nor any cause that he should have recused himself.

“There was no finding of any kind of wrong-doing at all,” said Abom.

The Judicial Conduct Board did not return calls for comment.

EDITOR’S NOTE: This story has been updated from the original to include Abom’s comments and to correct an inaccuracy in the stage of Judge Martin’s current military deployment.


Trial continues for man accused of molesting children


It’s a case that is filled with graphic allegations of sexual abuse of four children by Robert Brown.

Tuesday in court, one of the victims testified that Brown abused her several times when she was eight or nine years old. She told the court that she was “scared” during the abuse and that it “made her feel uncomfortable.”

Brown was seated in the courtroom as she testified. Child advocates say that although very important to the judicial process, putting children victims on the stand can be a difficult experience for them.

Jason Kutulakis has worked extensively with the organization Child-First Pa. The organization aims to better train professionals on how to handle claims of abuse, and to put the needs of the victim first. He explained that this is achieved by making the process more child-friendly by using language children understand, and by videotaping interviews of them so they don’t have to repeat their statements several times.

“Bringing a young child in who’s little feet can’t even touch the ground is an intimidating situation,” he explained, saying the atmosphere of a courtroom can make adults uncomfortable let alone children who will be seated just feet away from their abusers.

Prosecutors played video recordings of interviews between Brown and a Pennsylvania State Police corporal. During the interviews, Brown admitted to touching all four victims.

At one point, the corporal asked Brown if he understood what he was doing was illegal and Brown said he did. He claimed the abuse happened after the victims asked him questions out of curiosity.

The trial will continue Wednesday morning.

Courtesy of ABC27

Grand jury to decide charges against Williamstown woman who fatally shot husband in self-defense claim

WILLIAMSTOWN — Gina Anne Murphy told state police she was defending herself from her knife-wielding ex-husband when she retrieved her .22-caliber revolver and fatally shot him in the chest Monday night.

It was the latest in an ongoing pattern of threats from her ex-husband, she told investigators. Murphy has not been charged in Dauphin County’s ninth homicide of 2012, but some midstate criminal defense attorneys said Thursday she might have a difficult time arguing self-defense.

What it might come down to is the gap of time between the threat with the knife and when she retrieved her weapon, said Harrisburg attorney Brian W. Perry of Gover, Perry & Shore.

“If it happened simultaneously, that’s one thing,” Perry said. “If he threatened her with a knife and she was able to get out of the situation, go into another room, grab her gun and comes back and shoots him, that’s going to be hard for her self-defense claim.”

A grand jury will meet Friday to determine if charges will be filed against Murphy, said Trooper Adam Reed, a state police spokesman. The fact-finding effort will likely take several days, Reed said.

Daniel Joseph Murphy, 52, died of a single gunshot wound to the heart after he was shot about 10:45 p.m. at the Murphys’ home in the 400 block of East Market Street. When troopers arrived, they found Gina Murphy kneeling over her ex-husband’s body, according to court papers.

Despite being remarried to others, the Murphys were living together in the two-story, stone house surrounded by a white picket fence in the northernmost part of Dauphin County. Gina Murphy did not return a message left on her cellphone Thursday.

Murphy told investigators her ex-husband had repeatedly threatened her with knives and would leave threatening notes for her in the home, according to court papers.

During an interview with police, Murphy also said she “used her computer to Facebook her friends telling them of the arguments and threats from Daniel.”

Any history of violence between the couple is going to be key to the outcome of any case if charges are filed, said Carlisle attorney Jay Abom of Abom & Kutulakis.

“If she knows he’s been violent in the past, she’s allowed to consider that when she decides to use deadly force,” Abom said. “His history of violence [against her] is relevant in her estimating the necessary use of force.”

Dauphin County Court had no record of protection-from-abuse orders issued by Gina Murphy against her ex-husband, according to a court official. The county’s district attorney, Edward M. Marsico Jr., said he wasn’t aware of police being called to the home on previous occasions.

A neighbor said Tuesday there’d often be parties at the home during the week. The neighbor, Heather Wenrich, also said she noticed several vehicles parked in an alley behind the home several hours before the shooting, indicating they might have had company.

Attorneys say more investigation is needed to determine if Murphy’s actions are supported by the state’s Castle Doctrine, which was expanded last year to give people the right to use deadly force when they feel threatened outside the home.

Under the previous law, people could use firearms or other deadly force without retreating only if they were attacked in their homes, vehicles or businesses.

“You have to immediately believe you were protecting yourself against death or serious bodily injury,” Abom said.

On the night of the homicide, the Murphys had both been drinking, police said. Gina Murphy was drinking at home and at Uncle Jim’s Tavern, according to court papers.

When she returned home from the bar, the couple began arguing, and Daniel Murphy threatened her with a knife. It was at that time that she shot him, according to court papers.

Police obtained a search warrant to search the Murphy’s home for all firearms, including the .22-caliber revolver, ammunition, casings, gunshot residue, knives, knife-sharpening equipment, notes related to Gina and Daniel Murphy, DNA and other evidence.

Results from that search, which was supposed to be completed by Thursday morning, have not been disclosed.

State police said they are investigating the self-defense angle and have not determined if charges will be filed.

Nevertheless, self-defense cases are among the most difficult to prove in court, Abom said.

“Juries have to infer intent,” he said. “It requires jurors to interpret or decide what people were thinking, and that’s not an easy task.”

Carlisle tax collector facing drug charges claims he uses marijuana for medical reasons

A day after his arrest on charges of selling marijuana, Carlisle’s elected tax collector said he uses the drug for medical reasons.

George Thomas Hicks Jr. said in an interview Wednesday that he regularly smokes marijuana to cope with a mood disorder.

Hicks said the prescription drugs he used to take caused side effects and led to physical problems.
Hicks.jpgView full sizeGeorge T. Hicks Jr.

“I opted for an alternative,” Hicks said.

As for the charges — police said Hicks blatantly sold marijuana outside his office — the 21-year-old contends he sold marijuana only as a favor to a friend. He said he is not a drug dealer and will fight the two felony drug-dealing charges lodged against him in Cumberland County Court.

Hicks said he had smoked marijuana with a woman he knows through a debt collection agency which he owns and operates. The agency is in an office in the first block of South Hanover Street, on the same floor as his tax collector office.

On Aug. 2, Hicks said the woman asked him to sell marijuana to her friend, a man he said he knew only as Chris. Hicks said he agreed. Hicks said the woman then insisted the sale take place at the collection agency office.

Four days later, the woman called again, Hicks said, to say Chris wanted to buy more pot. Again, the woman asked Hicks to carry out the sale at the debt collection agency.

“[The woman] said [Chris’] dealer is on vacation. Can you get him some more? I said, ‘Why not?’,” Hicks said on Wednesday.

According to documents filed in District Judge Jessica Brewbaker’s office, Hicks took $100 from an undercover officer in an Aug. 2 marijuana sale and $200 in a marijuana sale on Monday.

Hicks was arrested the next day and is free on $5,000 bail.

Cumberland County District Attorney Dave Freed has asked the court to keep Hicks from collecting tax payments until his case is resolved. A judge will weigh Freed’s request on Monday. Until then, under a temporary injunction granted by county Judge Christylee Peck, collecting duties are out of Hicks’ hands. Taxes must be paid at the borough office at 53 W. South St.

Hicks, who as of Wednesday did not have an attorney, said he shouldn’t be barred from carrying out his tax collector duties.

The case is similar to that of former Cumberland Coroner Todd Eckenrode, who remained in office after being charged with mishandling prescription drugs obtained through death investigations conducted by his office. Between his arrest on Jan. 4 until he resigned effective May 12, Eckenrode was barred from involvement in any death investigations that could become criminal cases, including cases that were in progress when he was arrested, as a bail condition imposed by the state attorney general’s office.

Eckenrode on Friday was sentenced to a year of probation and 120 hours of community service after pleading guilty to a charge of mishandling the prescription drugs.

Pennsylvania State Department press secretary Ron Ruman said there is no state law requiring criminally-charged elected officials to leave office.

“The only stipulation is if you’ve been convicted, then you’re listed as not qualified to hold office. There’s nothing in the law to say if you’ve been charged with something you can’t serve,” Ruman said.

Hicks said he believes the court injunction, and the press conference at which charges against him were announced, were heavy-handed.

Freed disagrees.

“I think it was absolutely the right thing to do. I would like to hold elected officials to a higher standard,” Freed said.

Especially, Freed said, since the alleged sales by Hicks took place down the hall from the tax collector office.

Hicks said the pot he sold amounted to less than 1 ounce in total. He said he sold the pot as a favor and didn’t charge more than he paid for the drug.

Jay Abom, a Carlisle criminal defense lawyer who is not connected to the case, said the quantity of drugs sold is not relevant in the felony charges lodged against Hicks. And, if Hicks sold the pot as a favor at no profit — even if he gave pot to the undercover officer — Abom said drug delivery charges would still apply.

“A dealer doesn’t need to make a profit to be a drug dealer,” Abom said.

Abom said the maximum prison sentence for each drug delivery is five years; however, mandatory minimum sentencing wouldn’t kick in unless Hicks sold at least 2 pounds of marijuana.

Hicks, a Philadelphia native, turned 21 on April 3. He said he’s fluent in Italian and came to Carlisle to attend Dickinson College and major in the language.

He said he decided last year to take time off from his studies and said he had worked for a debt collection agency before launching his own firm in June.

Since his arrest, Hicks said he’s received many messages from supporters.

“I love Carlisle,” he said. “I was building a business at the same time as being a tax collector.”