Solicitor baffled by rage that followed suicide Terry Silva said she feared for her life on the weekend Edwin Meyer died.

Posted: May 02, 2003

School solicitor Terry Silva spent Easter weekend in a bulletproof vest.

She was afraid of retaliation from Chichester School District Superintendent Edwin Meyer.

By that weekend, a political maelstrom involving the two was threatening to whirl out of control: Meyer was missing, and he had a gun.

Silva, 43, who has a reputation as a tenacious lawyer by many accounts, had grilled Meyer for eight hours during two public hearings, shown on local-access cable television. She wanted him fired; the majority of the board wanted him to go, too.

On Good Friday, Meyer offered a peace treaty, trying to settle with the district and end the hearings. But it didn't go anywhere. He disappeared from home that afternoon.

Silva heard from board President William Tracey that Meyer was missing and was warned to be careful as Meyer's family and friends searched for him. They feared he was suicidal.

Meyer never went after Silva. Instead, he was found with a self-inflicted wound, a 12-gauge shotgun lying nearby.

As news of Meyer's suicide spread, Silva was bombarded with hate mail and threatening phone calls from angry residents who want her fired.

Silva is baffled by the turn of events. She maintains that she did only what the board directed her to do in pursuing Meyer's termination.

"There's a real fine line between doing violence to yourself and doing violence to somebody else," Silva said of Meyer's suicide, during a sometimes-tearful interview at her Marcus Hook office this week. "It probably takes an awful lot to cross that line. But who knows?"

Silva, a graduate of Villanova Law School, has been a member in good standing of the Pennsylvania Bar since 1984. She became a successful lawyer in Center City, doing defense work and commercial litigation.

She was known to be aggressive.

In 1997, she issued a subpoena to a witness in a trademark-infringement case before the defendant had even received the complaint."She is a good attorney because she is tenacious. She does research the law. She knows how to try a case," said Martin Pedata, who was the defense lawyer in the 1997 case.

"What we were dealing with were very complex and complicated issues," Pedata said. "It was not an easy case to defend or put on. It took someone who was organized."

Silva prides herself on being detail-oriented.

She doesn't like when the pictures on her wall, including a large one of New York's Grand Central Station, are crooked, she said while rearranging chairs that had been moved in her office.

It's that same kind of organization that she takes into a courtroom.

Meyer had come under fire after trying to limit Silva's duties. He and board members decided that drafting a job description for her could reduce the district's legal bills.

Silva initiated and led an investigation into Meyer's handling of personnel and technology matters. Silva forwarded information gathered in the probe to Delaware County District Attorney G. Michael Green, who said he found no basis for criminal charges.

During the district hearings against Meyer, Silva used large color-coded binders to separate evidence. The red one was for alleged mismanagement of the district technology department; green was for alleged questionable bonus transfers; and white was for policies and agendas.

She instructed board members to refer to the color-coded binders she had given them to keep up with her presentation. Board members were not permitted, per her instructions, to peruse the evidence before she was ready for them to do so.

The questioning of Meyer was frequently tense, and the hearings ended after 10 p.m. Meyer often tried to testify, but Silva told the hearing officer to limit him to yes or no answers.

"It wasn't emotional," Silva said. "It was my job."

Another hearing was scheduled for the day after Meyer's body was found in a wooded area in Centreville, Del., on April 20.

Even with all the conflict and drama in school board politics, Silva is still glad she left the work she was doing in Philadelphia.

"It sure as heck matters more to the betterment of our community to do this job," she said.

When Silva was hired in July 1998, the board wanted somebody who was aggressive and could take control, said former board member William Dunkin, who resigned during the school board's battle with Meyer.

And, that's what it got, "more so than we hoped," Dunkin said.

Board members liked her style, at first.

"We came to the point where citizens of the community were calling her directly," Dunkin said.

In one instance, Silva helped a high school senior with a broken leg get a wheelchair so he could attend classes and graduate. The student's mother called Silva because district bureaucracy was making getting the chair difficult, Silva said.

"The mother needed help," she said. "I helped them."

She didn't charge for her time, she said.

Dunkin said that was another example of Silva's going too far.

"That's lovely," he said. "That's not her job."

David Lafferty, president of K & D Communications in Glen Mills, which operates the phone system for the district, said he found Silva overbearing.

As the fight against Meyer progressed, Silva contacted Lafferty five times for information about Meyer, Lafferty said. She was alleging that Meyer illegally wiretapped the district's incoming calls.

Meyer had the system installed to track the origin of bomb threats.

"She did not take my word for it, or any of my technicians' word for it, that there was no wiretapping being done," Lafferty said.

"She was trying to build a case," he said. "There is no other logical reason for her to be so deeply involved."

Silva said she just wanted to keep control of the investigation. She did so, with board approval, rather than hire another lawyer.

"I knew the people involved," she said.

And, she likes to be thorough, she said. A federal judge agreed.

In awarding Silva more than $317,000 in fees and costs for winning a redistricting lawsuit that overhauled the Chichester school board in 1998, Senior U.S. District Judge John P. Fullam said that "an appalling number of trees were sacrificed for this litigation" but that he was "reluctant to penalize an attorney for being 'too' prepared."

To be prepared, Silva works weekends and often at night. Aside from her three dogs, she doesn't have much of a social life, she said.

"I got into this, being an attorney, because it's a profession, and when I first started practicing, that's what attracted me to it," she said.

Her mother, Patricia Bair, who lives four miles from Silva's Boothwyn home, echoes those who say Silva is a detail person.

"She does everything by the book," her mother said.

Silva likes a challenge and puts herself into everything she does. She is a distance runner and has qualified to run in the Boston Marathon. She uses the same endurance for court.

"I want to put everything I have into representing a client," she said.

"I do what it takes."

Contact staff writer Tina Moore at 610-627-0352 or tmoore@phillynews.com.

comments powered by Disqus
|
|
|
|
|