January 17, 2014 |
TRENTON An Egg Harbor City man who insisted on keeping his hat on in court has found himself at the center of a legal skirmish some hope will provide a compelling reminder that judges must adequately accommodate the poor. But the American Civil Liberties Union filing that could prompt such a message has little to do with Matthew Graham's black headpiece. The organization's New Jersey chapter submitted a brief this week to a state appellate court, arguing that a judge erred in denying certain fee waivers that would permit Graham to appeal a contempt-of-court conviction.
September 28, 2012
The case for sparing the life of condemned killer Terrance Williams has never been more compelling than now, just days away from his scheduled appointment with Pennsylvania's executioner. Working along two tracks, Gov. Corbett and the courts still have a chance to head off an irreversible injustice - and what would be the state's first execution in a half-century of someone who had not given up on appealing his death sentence. The first opportunity comes Thursday, when the state Board of Probation and Parole is set to review its rejection of Williams' clemency bid. New evidence that weighs heavily in Williams' favor should be more than enough to convince two board holdouts to recommend commutation by Corbett to a life sentence.
March 7, 2012 |
PHILADELPHIA's court system, the First Judicial District, is enacting reforms to make it easier for people to challenge court debts they believe are inaccurate. Legal advocates say the changes, scheduled to take effect in about six weeks, will give poor people a better chance at fighting debts. Last year, court officials announced plans to crack down on debtors, who owed the district a combined total of about $1.5 billion in forfeited bail, restitution and other court costs.
February 13, 2012
NOT EVERYONE'S debts get wiped from the books. In fact, legal advocates say, it doesn't happen for most people who are wrongly targeted for payment of delinquent court costs. A typical story, they say, would be like that of George James. James, 60, a truck driver from Northeast Philly, says he recently found out he owed more than $900 for various court costs from the 1990s. But the court's records are wrong, he says, because his wages were garnished for a year to pay the debts.
February 13, 2012 |
EVELYN PINER is stuck in a Catch-22. Last year, she got a letter from the First Judicial District, Philadelphia's court system, saying she owed $900 in forfeited bail for skipping a court hearing in early 1990. It was the first she'd heard of the debt, she says. Plus, it didn't make sense: She couldn't have owed money, she says, because she was in prison at the time of the hearing. The feisty Piner, 53, looked for prison records to prove it - but found that all the prison system's documents prior to 1991 had been destroyed by water damage.
February 23, 2011 |
Watch out! If you've failed to pay the Philadelphia courts bail money or restitution, you have until Monday to work out a payment plan before officials start taking more drastic measures. Your property could be seized. Your wages garnished. You could face further financial penalties. The First Judicial District, which is facing $1.5 billion in unpaid bail, restitution and other court costs, announced early last month that it was giving those who owed money a two-month, no-penalty period until Feb. 28, after which more serious action could be taken.
June 9, 2010
Philadelphia prosecutors on Tuesday began looking for small-time marijuana possession cases to downgrade to summary offenses, in an effort to reduce court costs, officials said. Possession cases reaching the preliminary arraignment stage may be diverted from misdemeanor charges. People caught with 30 grams (a little more than an ounce) or less will still be arrested, but they could wind up taking a class, paying a $200 fine, and having their record expunged. The new leniency is expected to save taxpayer money that is spent on public defenders, police testimony, and documentation.
August 11, 2009
NEARLY 50 years ago, the Supreme Court decided that poor people charged with a crime are entitled to legal presentation, paid for by the state. As our state Legislature continues its destruction path through the budget process, this is a right that is now in jeopardy in Philadelphia. That's because the court-appointed attorneys that represent the city's poorest clients in criminal and family courts are on the "don't-pay" list of vendors created by the city due to the state budget stalemate.
July 3, 2009 |
Two women who lied to a grand jury investigating the case of Danieal Kelly, a 14-year-old girl with cerebral palsy who died of starvation inside her mother's filthy West Philadelphia apartment, were sentenced yesterday to probation and community service. Common Pleas Court Judge Benjamin Lerner sentenced Diamond Brantley, 22, to two years' probation, 75 hours of community service, and court costs. He sentenced Marie Moses, 36, to three years' probation, 100 hours of community service, and court costs.
May 1, 2009
ON WEDNESDAY, City Council held hearings on the $99 million budget for the First Judicial District, which includes the Court of Common Pleas, Municipal Court, and Traffic Court. Council members asked some tough questions about the soaring prison population and alternatives to incarceration. It was heartening to see Council raise important issues, but disturbing to hear the same old answers from the officials who run our courts. Perhaps the most disturbing moment came when Councilman Wilson Goode asked Court Administrator David Lawrence what accounted for the high number of people behind bars.