Looking down from the bench, Judge Harold Kane took a stern approach with the defendant. After cutting Kevin Murphy a break by allowing him to enter a program for first offenders, the former Philadelphia judge warned the former state lawmaker from North Scranton.
Fail to abide by the conditions of probation, Kane said, and you will again find yourself standing before me, Kane said.
Murphy looked like he’d rather be golfing.
And that was that.
But how do we know Murphy is abiding by the rules that require 90 Alcoholics Anonymous meetings in 90 days? How do we know he attends? How do we know whether he’s allowed to miss a meeting here or there? How do we know whether he’s allowed to take the weekend to play golf out of state if he wants?
We don’t know.
The people charged with watching lawmaker turned lawbreaker Murphy won’t tell us.
I should qualify that last statement. I’m not sure if I’m allowed to call Murphy a lawbreaker because nobody in an official capacity will confirm if entry into the program is an acknowledgement of guilt or reflects conviction.
We’d know Murphy’s status – or lack thereof - had he gone to trial the way he claimed he wanted to. But a last minute agreement between the state attorney general’s prosecutors, the judge and Murphy’s lawyer cut the deal that benefitted Murphy, who was charged with attacking his wife and her friend and beating them mercilessly.
Had a jury convicted Murphy, we would know for sure that we could call him a lawbreaker. Now we don’t know. The system that Murphy once served and then disgraced seems to be working more for him than for the good citizens and taxpayers who pay for his coddling.
The other day I called the Lackawanna County probation office to see if they are overseeing Murphy and making sure he is abiding by the rules. I wanted to know the conditions of Murphy’s probation and ask specific questions about oversight so we the people can rest assured knowing that a once run amok Murphy is now under control.
I left a detailed message for the boss and asked him to return my call.
The boss did not return my call.
Instead, he passed along my concerns to a county commissioner press officer, a public relations type with no hands-on experience with the criminal justice system. With my three years working in a state prison, I have more experience. But a PR flack who is likely more knowledgeable about marketing underarm deodorant than probation issues was assigned to deal with me.
The county spokesman left a message on my voice mail. The probation boss passed along my inquiry, he said. Murphy is abiding by the conditions of his probation, he said. We will have no further comment, he said.
For that, he pulls in a nice fat county salary and benefits. For that, people call him a public servant. For that, he is considered a gatekeeper to the public trust. For that, he has joined the ranks of the idiot elite who truly believe they have no duty to openly and honestly answer relevant questions about a man who once got arrested for being a raving maniac who allegedly assaulted two people and, according to witnesses, then jumped behind the wheel of his car and fled in a drunken rage.
For that, people lose faith in the system.
So I tried to call Judge Kane.
An assistant to the president judge in Philadelphia told me that Kane had retired “months and months” ago. Yeah, I know, I said, but he recently presided over a high profile case in my hometown and I needed to talk with him about it. How do I reach him?
The woman told me Kane works for the Administrative Office for Pennsylvania Courts in Harrisburg.
“They pay him,” she said.
So I called and left a message for the AOPC press flack, who has a history of not returning my calls concerning other judicial matters. I politely explained the importance of the matter and asked him to please call me back even if he can’t – or won’t - help me.
I’d like to think that keeping track of a man accused of battering his estranged wife and mother of his four children might qualify as a priority. The PR flack did not return my call.
For starters I plan to file an open records law request with the county commissioners asking to see any and all public documents relating to Murphy’s probation. Then I’ll ask for the probation boss’ job application so I can see his background. I might even ask for the PR flack’s job application.
I’m also thinking about filing a complaint with the AOPC against the press officer who can’t be bothered with the press. Too much rides on government public accountability – especially in the courts - for even a Scranton radio talk show host to get blown off by the privileged ego of a working press officer.
Maybe I’ll get nowhere. But at least I’ll know I tried. That’s what I keep telling you and myself – I don’t expect to win these battles against government waste, abuse and political corruption.
But I refuse to lose.
You simply fight when something’s worth fighting for.