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Free Swimming For Kids!

Tuesday, May 05, 2015

When my father Shamus was growing up in Scranton during the Depression, maybe he swam below the "cut" in the Lackawanna River where his dad dug bootleg coal. If so, I doubt that my father or his nine brothers and sisters had real bathing suits. Shamus probably wore a pair of older brother Gene's hand-me-down shorts or just his knickers.

If city swimming pools existed in the 30s, Shamus never told me about them.

We've come a long way in 21st Century Scranton.

Or have we?

City taxpayers foot the bill for several swimming pools, including the big outdoor pool equipped with a brightly-colored plastic winding sliding board at Nay Aug Park, a place that should be packed each summer day with squealing, laughing children.

But several pools will remain closed this summer for a variety of reason – capped by the overall incompetence of city officials who can't figure out how to open them and provide city kids a much-deserved respite from sweltering summer heat and humidity.

Nay Aug will only offer "free swimming for kids" to those 12 years of age and under.

The rest can either come up with the price of a ticket or go swim in the river. Some will likely find their way to the dangerous nearby gorge and risk their young lives showing adults just what kind of recklessness they can find if abandoned without guidance, encouragement and support.

That's why the rallying cry "free swimming for kids" must be heard far and wide loud and clear.

A neighborhood group raised enough money last summer to cover the cost of the kids. In previous years no such thing as free swimming for kids existed at Nay Aug. This year, official "action" is a compromise that's not a compromise at all.

That's why I'm putting city officials on notice.

"Free swimming for kids" is non-negotiable.

The city simply must pay.

Officials from this recreation board and that city council and this mayor's office and that bureaucratic sewer authority claim that the money is simply not available, that the cash does not exist.

Yes it does. Find it. Take it from somewhere else – the mayor's salary, conferences or the coffee fund. Make New Jersey consultant Henry Amoroso pay. City officials helped him grab a fat raise for his "expertise" in urban planning. So tell him that "free swimming for kids" is part of our overall progressive approach to improving the quality of life in the city he's taking for a ride in his luxury consulting machine.

Henry can either find the money in an existing bank account or get it somewhere else. Scranton residents already pay high enough taxes and service rates to cover the cost – and add free popsicles for kids once a week as well.

One neighborhood organizer accused city officials of discriminating against poor kids. So what else is new? Poor kids always pay for the free ride self-absorbed politicians give themselves, their families and friends.

Go to any of the slew of campaign fundraisers and observe the amount of beer guzzled by campaign workers and supporters, paid for by candidates who claim to support the bright future of the city – a once bustling place now on the verge of collapse led by a mayor who can't see the forest or the trees. At the most popular political fundraisers the cost of beer alone could pay for free swimming for kids.

If you ostracize the young and make them feel as if they don't matter because they don't, you tempt fate by marginalizing the simplest of their dreams.

Innocence lost can turn rabid.

In a dog-eat-dog political world, the bites resulting from such cruel attacks will only fester and get worse.

Free swimming for kids! Free swimming for kids! Free swimming for kids!

 


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"Do You Still Drink?" I Asked The Candidate

Tuesday, April 21, 2015
 
Daddy Kane and Mommy Kane worked very hard over the years to raise Baby Kane. As a result, Baby Kane – also known as Jared Martin Kane – raised quite a bit of Caine of his own.

Back in 2010 Baby Kane told police he had been drinking, “was driving and hit a few things,” according to a press account of his night out. Then Wilkes-Barre councilwoman Mommy Kane and magisterial district judge Daddy Kane could at least tell friends that boozy Baby Kane was honest.

That kind of loopy open book mentality shapes Baby Kane’s current bid to replace Daddy Kane when he retires.

A meat cutter by trade at a Wilkes-Barre supermarket, Baby Kane can campaign on a platform of cutting the pork from the political wheeling and dealing that sometimes shapes a slick magistrate’s career.

And, a considerable amount of hard work and hard liquor goes into scoring 0.267 on your blood alcohol content test. That’s impressive, even for Wilkes-Barre, where district judges often work overtime handling drunken driving cases.

If elected, Baby Kane, 33, will bring real experience to the bench. Police charged Baby Kane with not one but two counts of driving under the influence because he struck two legally parked cars.

The cars were parked a block apart!

And that takes practice!

Baby Kane says he made a mistake and has grown.

“Do you still drink? I asked when we spoke briefly by phone Tuesday.

“No,” he said.

“Not at all?” I asked.

“Not like I used to,” he said.

I explained that he had just given me two entirely different answers to the same question.

Baby Kane admitted his deception.

“Yea,” he said. “I jumped the gun on that one.”

Like I said, if nothing else, Baby Kane is honest.

But getting elected might not be as easy as former sheet metal worker judge Daddy Kane and current city controller Mommy Kane Baby Kane might think.

Critics accuse the Kane campaign brain trust of being deceptive. Baby Kane’s first name does not even appear on his campaign yard signs. All the signs say is “Kane for Magisterial District Judge.”

His Facebook page also just says “elect Kane Magisterial District Judge.”

Because no mention of Baby Kane’s first name appears anywhere in the literature, some people in Wilkes-Barre might think that Daddy Kane is up for re-election, as he has been regularly for almost three decades. They’ll think they’re voting for the same old hustler judge rather than voting for his new hustler judge son.

So why no first name, Jared?

Baby Kane provided some convoluted explanation about first names not being clearly visible on campaign signs and then in almost the same breath said he’s got new signs ordered that will include his first name.

He also said he passed his magistrate certification test with flying colors – considerable progress from when he spent four years at Kutztown University from  2000 to 2004 when he finished six credits short of graduation.

Baby Kane said he’s still thinking about going back to college.

And he denied, contrary to published reports, ever having worked for legendary Luzerne County gangster judge Michael Conahan when he “finished” college. He said he worked in the jury room and that his name mistakenly got included in an anonymous letter that went to the Judicial
Conduct Board before Conahan got indicted, pleaded guilty and headed to prison for 17 ½ years for his part in selling kids for cash.

Baby Kane says all he has to do now is win.

And he might do just that.
 
 
 


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Taking Hillary's Message To Heart

Tuesday, April 14, 2015

Shining solid gray in the warm spring dusk, the Rodham family headstone toppled sometime over the weekend near the edge of Scranton’s Washburn Cemetery.

How the heavy stone fell remains a mystery.

Did fanatics drag it down a day or two after a local television news report showed it for the world to see?

Did the wind blow it over, as the kindly undertaker suggested Monday evening while standing on sacred ground? Did vandals overturn it on purpose or did the earth above our abandoned coal mines shift in a natural gasp of living soil?

Whatever force sent that heavy marker on its back must have been substantial. More significant, though, is the power that righted the wrong and worked to raise the stone to its original dignity.

Virtue still lives in that old Scranton graveyard. Strength breathes as testament to a legacy of life, love and commitment to what is just. The Rodham family stone anchors an indelible spirit that remains so much a part of this city. So, too, does the family memorial mark the presidential campaign of a special Rodham daughter. Like those who came and went before her, Hillary is part of this town, her father’s town, a town that helped shape her and her family.

The Rodham signature remains part of Scranton’s past, present and future.

Family history provides identity to us all.

That’s one reason why, born of good stock, Hillary brings the Rodham character of discipline, purpose and honor to her pledge to help people and a country in need.

Little about life is easy – especially in Scranton. Mystery clouds tomorrow. But what we know for sure is that when trouble arises, the chance to help people makes for better people. The chance to make a difference in people’s lives turns bad into good in any town.

A man and his wife had spotted the downed Rodham headstone Monday afternoon while walking the cemetery where the man has family buried. So he went home and quickly made a call. The man he called listened, hung up and made a call of his own. Other calls went out as well.

By early evening, four men and a woman stood by the Rodham family plot, talking in quiet tones the way good people have stood around talking at Scranton burial grounds for centuries. Then they shook hands and went to work to solve the problem.

The undertaker called a crane operator who said he would show up at the cemetery the next day. Police would be notified. A Rodham family friend called Hillary’s brother, Tony, to tell him that everything would be okay. Another person called the man and his wife to thank them for their concern and promised to keep them up to date.

People looking out for each other, neighbors watching out for neighbors, good citizens helping anybody who needs help. Money or no money, black, white, Latino, citizen, non-citizen, gay or straight - just like the video Hillary released Sunday when she officially announced her presidential campaign.

“Hillary for America” translates into exactly what happened in Scranton yesterday.

Helping, not hurting, creates a new day in our lifetime as sturdy as a toppled headstone raised again in dignity, stability and love for all that’s good.

At our best, in Scranton and elsewhere, we’re simply people helping people.
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
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People : Tony


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"Badfella" Paul Sorvino Owes Us

Tuesday, April 07, 2015

Washed up mob movie actor Paul Sorvino needs a nickname.

After his sniveling performance on my show last week, his feigned outrage over the fate of his latest film was less than memorable. Sorvino’s real-life role as victim was also far from convincing. But his whiney whimpers were impressive.

How about “Paulie Sniffles?”

Beautiful.

“Paulie Sniffles” it is.

And you, Paulie Sniffles, better be ready for what’s coming. Because we’re going to the mattresses, as the goodfella goons say, in our fight to get what you owe us. We’re the victims here, not you, Paulie Sniffles. But we’re victims unlike any you’ve ever met.

You want Scranton, “Paulie Sniffles,” we’ll give you Scranton. Our Scranton, though, the real Scranton, is unlike the prissy, pampered place of privilege you know and claim to love.

If you love us why stick us for the half a million in taxpayer money you grabbed and sunk into that flop, “The Trouble With Cali,” that you created here and now claim nobody wants to distribute? If you love us why blame us for sinking your so-called movie? If you love us you wouldn’t blubber and crybaby your way around town with your failure film following you like the ghost of our late great hometown actor Jason Miller, who gave you your break and opened up our town to you?

No, Paulie Sniffles, you only love yourself.

That’s why you cheated us.

So give us our movie.

We’re partners, remember?

You said it yourself, Paulie Sniffles, when you called the show and blamed me, Times-Tribune columnist Chris Kelly and other critics for destroying your movie distribution deal with an unnamed Canadian company.

You never had a deal, ya lug, ya.

And the two goofs who signed over the 500,000 clams that you skimmed off the top of their chowder heads never had our approval to give away our money in the first place. Both guys, former Republican majority Lackawanna County Commissioners Bob Cordaro and A.J. Munchak, are currently serving federal prison sentences on unrelated public corruption felonies. Cordaro is even listed as an executive producer on your - I mean our - film.

That must have impressed the Canadians and anybody else foolish enough to give your family enterprise – written by one daughter, featuring another – credit for anything except finality.

Final as in croaked.

“Cali is dead,” you told me on the air in breathy dramatic tones before trying to pull a fast one and hang up on us. I sensed your final curtain falling and had to throw a couple of fast body shots that doubled you over.

“You stick us and we’re supposed to feel bad for you?” I asked.

“You son of a bitch,” you said.

And the whole world suddenly saw through you, recognizing you for the loser you are, the failure you have become, the hustler who never cut it in Scranton and killed his – I mean our - movie. Then you turned and ran, leaving a dull roar in your wake like the frothing waves of a tramp steamer full of holes going down for the last time.

So here’s the deal, champ. Kelly and I will meet you at a saloon of our choosing – New York or Scranton, take your pick. You hand over the movie. And we show it for free in Scranton and then we show it again to benefit charity. I doubt that anybody will want to see your “masterpiece” more than twice.

Of course you’re welcome to attend although I would advise against it.

Some of us carry a grudge in Scranton the way you beautiful people carry a canape.

So dry your eyes and give us our movie.

We’re not through with you yet, “Paulie Sniffles.”

 

 
 


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Friendly Sons Deny Equal Opportunity

Monday, March 16, 2015

A spokeswoman for Vice President of the United Stated Joe Biden told me Friday that our scrappy kid from Scranton does not have time to talk with me on the air for 10 minutes today or tomorrow about the Lackawanna County Friendly Sons of St. Patrick dinner, where Biden is scheduled to be the featured speaker.

Tuesday’s annual event is the 110th gathering of this gang of well-heeled, well-connected men of means and privilege – and the third time for Biden - who exclude women unless they are serving heaping plates of ham and cabbage to the men.

Biden will likely share the elevated VIP table with U.S. Sen. Bob Casey, my senator and neighbor who lives down the hill from me in the hometown we share, the town of Biden’s birth.

Like Biden and Casey, the Friendly Sons refuse to talk with me. I’ve been fighting their discrimination against women for about 25 years and have reached out to them as I reached out to Biden and Casey.

My argument is simple. As a descendant of an Irish immigrant Scranton coal miner I want women to share the same American Dream that welcomed my grandfather. I want women to have the same equal opportunity that continues to draw immigrants to our small piece of the world.

But women are denied that opportunity at the dinner. Even female political candidates are barred. I recently spoke about the Friendly Sons dinner with a woman who is running for the Pennsylvania Supreme Court. She cannot attend and campaign, network, shake hands, develop her voter base or make friends and influence people the way male candidates can and will.

Male candidates always show up to campaign. That strikes me as particularly unfair – maybe even illegal. I wanted to ask Biden – as I tried to ask Casey - if he would help me fight for women’s rights. But Biden can’t find the time.

I understand why the law allows private clubs for men and women and why religious groups can legally discriminate against women. I support women’s colleges and don’t want to open the Girl Scouts to boys.

But I do want to open the world of business and politics to equal opportunity for women. That’s why I wrote this proclamation and handed it out on the street as I picketed Casey’s Scranton office last week with a seven-foot shamrock-shaped protect sign that quoted Casey’s big lie.

If Biden and Casey won’t join my fight maybe you will.

We will be better for it if you do.

 

                                                    Proclamation of Equal Opportunity

The sacred 1916 proclamation of Irish freedom begins with the words “Irishmen and Irishwomen.” The British government sentenced about 50 of those women to die for their part in the Easter Rising.

So as we prepare to celebrate St. Patrick’s Day we must respectfully pay tribute to the Irish women who helped shape the immigrant legacy and the American dream of our ancestors.

Freedom matters. Equal opportunity matters. Women matter.

Yet here in Northeastern Pennsylvania, women matter far less than men. And one of the worst offenders of gender discrimination is U.S. Senator Bob Casey, an Irish-American who should know better. That’s why I’m picketing Casey’s office here in Scranton. As a male chauvinist Paddy’s pig Casey wields great power to help rather than hurt. That’s why I was proud to hear Casey recently tell the world in Oslo, Norway, that “women’s rights are non-negotiable.”

But Casey is not telling the truth. In fact Casey will join Vice President of the United States Joe Biden – a Scranton native – on St. Patrick’s Day, March 17, for the sexist, segregationist Lackawanna County Friendly Sons of St. Patrick annual dinner, a male-only gathering of about 1,500 of the most powerful male leaders of business, politics and law. Three sitting federal judges in Scranton are former Friendly Sons presidents.

No women need apply. Women and dogs keep out.

I asked Casey for a meeting to try to change his mind, but he refused to see me. I asked for a statement but he ignored my emails. So now I march up and down for freedom, for equal rights and for all of us who value fairness and justice. We must sometimes take a public stand. We must always stand on principle. We must never allow even the most privileged and powerful to oppress and subjugate in our name.

Erin Go Bragh.

Ireland forever.

Women forever.

You better listen.
 
Tags :  
Locations : BidenNortheastern PennsylvaniaOslo
People : Bob CaseyLike Biden


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Irish Ghost Or Irish Blarney?

Monday, March 02, 2015

 

Mysterious Ireland beckons us for our next Irish adventure as sure as that young woman by the lake beckoned me that soft Irish night so many years ago – 43 years to be exact.

I sometimes see her when I close my eyes on stormy nights, when wind howls like the banshee and rain crackles against the window like green emeralds spilling from a captured leprechaun’s treasure chest. I cannot hear her voice because she never spoke - just a smile, a gesture inviting me to join her by the lake. I was 21, she about the same. This was my first trip to the land of my ancestors, a place filed with as many unknowns as knowns, a magic place where time can and does stand still.

Don’t ask me why, but I turned and walked away.

I’ve only told the story to a select few. Those who understand the power of fate know that soft temptation sometimes calls us in more ways than one. But if you come with me this October 9 through 17 as we explore Irish pubs and the deepest reaches of Celtic folklore, myth and legend, I promise to share my tale and ask you what it means.

Perhaps you won’t believe my story.

Perhaps you will.

But what I saw that dim twilight by the lake, Loch Corrib, near the small village of Cornamona where my grandfather was born, provided me with a haunted lesson of youth that might take root in your mind and guide you to safety as it has guided me.

Ireland is a great teacher, a scholar to those who want to learn. And this trip through AAA North Penn – 570-348-2511 for details – affords us all the opportunity to learn more than we can handle.

Maybe I’ll tell my tale that first night in Dublin, as we share a pint of the creamiest Guinness you will ever drink, as we look over the ancient city from a pub high atop the world-famous brewery. Or maybe I’ll wait until the last night of our trip, as we return to Dublin and share ghost stories at Ireland’s oldest pub, The Brazen Head, a safe haven of good food and drink and talk for weary travelers such as us.

Either way, I’ll tell the tale. I promise. Oh, will I ever tell the tale. Remember, I’m Irish.

In between, we’ll visit other pubs and sacred places – Blarney Castle and the Waterford Crystal factory. We’ll drive through scenery unchanged by time, sense the presence of early Christian monks and taste a drop of whiskey, if you like, at Kilbeggin, Ireland’s oldest distillery. The Cliffs of Moher, Achill Island, famous actor Richard Harris’ “Field,” the Dingle Peninsula, Kate Kearney’s Cottage dinner and so much more awaits us.

But back to the lake.

When I walked into the small cottage where I was staying with my cousin, I encountered neighbors from the village awaiting my return. I had simply gone out for a walk, to feel the Irish countryside beneath my feet and make the connection that only Ireland can provide.

They knew I was safe. And they were glad I was home. That’s even what they said when they first met me. “Stephen has come home.”

Puffing their pipes, sipping their tea, they sat in silence as solid country people often do, enjoying each other’s company and the knowledge that they were all part of the same life in a place unlike any other. Being American, I sometimes found the long silences awkward.

So I spoke.

I told them about the young woman by the lake.

An old man quickly took his pipe quickly from his mouth. An older woman put her hands to her mouth,. Another blessed herself. Another stood open-mouthed. Even the poor dog took cover under the chair closer to the warmth of the stove.

Wind suddenly wailed outside.

“It’s her,” an old fellow said. “It’s her.”

“She wanted you to come with her, Stephen,” he said. “She wanted you to accompany her forever as a replacement for the young man she lost - an American, like you. A wedding was planned and then he died in an accident. They were so good together and she could not bear the loss. She walked into the lake one night and never came home.”

Now I stood open-mouthed as sparks from the open turf fire danced like lost bridesmaids at the wedding of a friend and they told me how lucky I was.

Ten years earlier an American tourist disappeared after last being seen by the lake. Twenty years ago another Yank had gone missing. He, too, had taken a walk by the lake.

Now they understood.

So did I.

See you at the Brazen Head.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 
 


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Be An Eagle, Not A Garbage Gull

Wednesday, February 25, 2015
 
The green clenched fist at the center of a white triangle mountain makes it clear that the fight is on. The powerful symbol of “Friends of Lackawanna” says they’ll defend their community and go one more round no matter how long the battle takes or how fierce their opponent.

The power of the people has taken root in anger, responsibility and commitment. The power of the people has come of age in a new generation gathered to lead the old. The power of the people has helped empower their decency and help them take a stand.

Their green clenched fist belongs to us all. Designed by leaders of the non-profit organization (your contributions are legally tax deductible) its members are, indeed, friends of Lackawanna.

The group’s core members are parents and professionals, singles and working class, privileged and not so much so. And we all can be friends together – united in our desire to fight for a sound quality of life we can be proud to leave as our legacy.

That means the days of the Keystone Sanitary Landfill are numbered, that the garbage dump that too often defines Dunmore will go - that, finally capped and quiet, the trash mountain and accumulative toxic juices will go quietly into that good future of promise rather than plague.

Friends of Lackawanna want to be reasonable, and, of course, they are. As a veteran community development agitator I worry that they are sometimes too reasonable but am willing to chalk up their strategy as a difference of opinion in the revolution. Assertive aggression is more my style.

But then, I’m not calling the shots here. We can all learn from each other.

Different action plans might very well help keep the status quo off balance – a normally impenetrable power structure that combines elected political hacks with the seemingly endless supply of corporate cash that always fuels Northeastern Pennsylvania politics – particularly Dunmore and Lackawanna County politicians and their bagmen.

The landfill bosses are not used to being challenged. And the challenge posed by these mostly younger people who are supposed to do as they’re told must drive the bosses and their lackeys wild.

This perceived insult makes the bosses particularly dangerous because ample money and power is at stake. Being pushed into explaining themselves makes them desperate. The bosses are not used to explaining themselves. The bosses tell people what to do. And, like a garbage gull on a cold French fry, the “peasants” are supposed to behave predictably and do as they’re told.

Friends of Lackawanna leaders broke new ground in NEPA power politics when they went to the landfill, met face-to-face with the big bosses and told them that they planned to shut them down, not help them expand and build a mountain of trash higher than the Statue of Liberty.

Such courage is rare in hard coal country.

And, no matter what happens, that victory will fuel future action by future activists and, hopefully, future generations.

In this regard, Friends of Lackawanna have already won.

If for no other reason than to support these good citizens for taking a stand in favor of principle, go to the Department of Environmental Protection public meeting tonight, Feb. 25, from 6 to 10 p.m. at Dunmore High School, 300 West Warren Street, Dunmore.

And, if you can, take a stand yourself. Be free for a change. Freedom makes us stronger. Freedom helps us breathe and think and live and be better friends of Lackawanna and the world.

Our communities are worth fighting for.

Power to the people.
 
 
 
 
  
 
 
 


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Pro-Life Priest Admits "Mistake"

Thursday, February 05, 2015

In a voice soft with contrition, Father Leo McKernan confessed.

“Poor judgment on my part,” he said when we spoke on the phone.

Now the good people of the parish of St. Monica in West Wyoming must decide whether to forgive this man known for his rabid anti-abortion views and dedication to what the church calls “pro- life.”

The Roman Catholic priest from the Diocese of Scranton admitted he was wrong to approve the showing of a 14-minute “movie” to a religious instruction class of 11-year-olds, sixth-grade innocents who will shape the soul of the Church for generations to come.

No one asked the chidren's parents for permission, either.

Although a disclaimer at the beginning of "To Be Born" warned that the movie might not be appropriate for a young audience and sensitive viewers, the woman who taught the “CCD” class allowed her “zeal to overcome her common sense,” the priest said.

Parish parents know her well. Some accuse her of sharing McKernan’s zeal as an enemy of abortion, a Constitutionally-protected right that she and he call murder. One parishioner said he and his wife regularly become uncomfortable during Mass because the priest works his hatred for abortion into his sermons whenever he can.

If, though, the priest and the “teacher” truly respect the sanctity of life, why inflict a gruesome, bloody and violent dramatization of an abortion into the lives of the most vulnerable – the very children they claim they want to save and protect?

One child sat stoically through the film, facing a wall and refusing to look, her mother said when she called WILK to talk with me on the air. A little boy came home and opened up about what he saw, adding that the teacher had also once passed around plastic figures of a fetus in various stages of gestation, his mother said.

Father McKernan said he gave the movie a quick look before signing off on its showing.

Even a quick look drives home the gore of what the movie’s director even admitted was an “exaggerated” portrayal of an overwhelmingly safe medical procedure.

The scene shows what turns out to be a horrific dream sequence of the procedure in living color, with flashing lights, gleaming sharp silver instruments, bloody doctor’s gloves and a grotesque intensity that is unsettling to many adults – even those who oppose abortion.

Some parents worry that their children might have nightmares or even experience diagnosable trauma that could follow them deep into their lives. One mother said she and her husband had to talk with their daughter about issues she was just not prepared to handle.

Father McKernan said he realizes that some of the children subjected to the movie might have been harmed. He “made an honest mistake” and would like to talk with parents.

Some parents, however, said they already spoke with McKernan and that he seemed pleased with the movie and less than impressed with their complaints that if all life is precious, as the church teaches, why their children’s lives were assaulted with an emotional attack that even they would not want to face.

After I called the Diocese of Scranton and left a message, asking Bishop Joseph Bambera to speak with me about the movie and the impact on the lives of the parish children, Diocese Executive Director of Communications Bill Genello responded with a statement more suited to a stockholders' meeting than to a group of loving parents who believe the church abused their children.

“The Diocese respects the concerns of parents regarding a film that was shown to a CCD class at St. Monica Parish. The intention to educate students about the dignity of all human life and the need for us to protect life at all stages is worthy. As efforts are made to accomplish this, the age and maturity level of those who receive the message must be considered. The Diocese has responded to the concerns expressed by parents and the circumstances in this particular case are being addressed. The Diocese will continue to offer educational programs that are appropriate for their intended audiences.”

The bishop did not return my call.

And life goes one.

 
 


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Does Bob Cordaro Deserve A New Trial?

Tuesday, January 27, 2015

Despite the leg irons, Bob Cordaro strolled into a Wilkes-Barre federal courtroom Monday like he was heading into the Playboy Mansion for the Dean Martin roast.

Bearing the weight of the 11 year federal sentence he’s serving at a Ft. Dix, New Jersey prison, the 53-year-old former Lackawanna County commissioner flashed his trademark, toothy smile at supporters, showing family and friends that he’s still got it – the handsome ego, the bull-headed arrogance and the kiss-my- law degree bravado that helped slam the cell door on this once powerful wise man of means.

Defense lawyer William Costopoulos, who helped get him convicted, wasn’t smiling quite as broadly. In the 40 or so years I’ve known “Wild Bill” and followed his staged macho Harley-riding, custom-suit sporting, hand-tooled cowboy boots stomping, self-absorbed legal act, I have never seen him so pensive.

I can only attribute his soft demeanor to embarrassment and fear.

Costopoulos had finally met his match.  Another lawyer - a smarter, younger lawyer - had called his bluff. And Wild Bill seemed ready to fold. During the evidentiary hearing for a new trial, Cordaro’s new lawyer, Brian Kelly, peppered his adversary with one pointed question after another, using his superior knowledge of the law to put an alleged master defense lawyer on the defensive.

But, like a small, wounded animal, Costopoulos relied on primal instinct to guide him wherever fate might lead.  In this case, though, the rule of law, rather than the law of the jungle and luck, must be the judge’s guide.

Costopoulos relied on his training and experience. Recalling his Harvard master’s thesis about using psychology to gain an advantage in court, he seemed to have lost his edge. Instead of the legal gunslinger he always fancied himself to be, Wild Bill now was a puffy shark in a lost saloon, playing a final faded card from a worn and tattered deck.

Cordaro’s bid for a new trial accuses Costopoulos of ineffective counsel. Kelly calls Costopoulos incompetent. That means Costopoulos was simply not up to the job. For a well-known criminal trial lawyer, that’s the ultimate insult, a pointed suggestion that you’re better suited to throwing on a leather jacket and riding your chopper to Vegas than mounting a smooth, polished defense for any client – rich or poor.

In other words, stay out of the courtroom, Captain America.

Until he represented Cordaro, Costopoulos admitted that he not represented a client in a federal jury trial for 14 years. A lot changes in 14 years, Kelly said. Costopoulos admitted that, in fact, is true.

The law requires a vigorous defense. The criminal justice system, when it works, guarantees a defendant the right to a fair trial. A defective lawyer interferes with the sacred principle of liberty and justice. Such behavior helps gut democracy the way a mountain man guts a carp.

Kelly’s claim is that during Cordaro’s trial, Costopoulos wielded a fish knife rather than a golden-bound law book. Costopoulos failed – which, incongruously, he admitted under oath in court on Monday morning. Responding to Kelly, Costopoulos recalled an exchange that two men had during preparation for the hearing.

“I do recall telling you where I failed him,” Costopoulos said. “I do recall telling you where I failed Bob Cordaro. And I did.”

As Senior U.S. District Judge A. Richard Caputo deliberates whether to grant Cordaro a new trial, he must think long and hard about the severe implications of Costopoulos’s admission.

How can any defendant receive a fair trial if any lawyer admits failure while representing the defendant? How could Cordaro have benefitted from the aggressive advocacy he is guaranteed by law if his own lawyer burned holes in his boots by dragging his feet in court? If Costopoulos “threw up his hands” in defeat after Cordaro rejected a plea agreement, as Kelly charges, how could the system punish Cordaro to the extent to which he is now being punished?

Fairness is a crucial component of justice. Even the most heinous criminal must be afforded fairness in order for justice to survive. In our nation of law, no less is ever acceptable.

The American way must remain something to smile about.
 
 
 
 


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