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.
A mysterious woman asked her the time, released a jasmine scent from her hand, and told her to shoplift four dresses. She did. She was Richard Nixon's housekeeper who may have had an encounter with a Woman-In-Black? The full story is posted at MysteriousUniverse.org.
The director of the FBI in Washington calls his special operations team into his office because he's heard rumblings about political shenanigans in Scranton.
"So what else is new, boss," the agents say.
Grizzled, smelling of non-filtered Luckies and reeking of bad grooming and Jade East cologne, the agents smirk, slap each other on the back and pass around a bottle of Paddy whiskey.
"Knock it off," the boss says. "Who knows anything about the mugs on the Scranton school board?"
The agents freeze.
"No, boss, please, not them. Don't send us up there to deal with them. The school board president is meaner than Dillinger with hemorrhoids. Ma Barker wouldn't let her kids go to school there. Even the school district PR flack, "Baby-Faced Justin," lost a loaded gun on the street near an elementary school, a piece he borrowed from his moll while she was running for mayor.
"Hey, knock it off," the boss says. "We're the FBI. What's our motto?"
"We ain't ascared of no Scranton."
"That's the spirit."
"Now, what's the story on this school board president Cy Douaihy?" the boss says.
"He publicly disowned his own cousin," says Agent Y. "Says he doesn't even know where Lebanon is? Down near Lancaster, he says?"
"Yeah, but she's still his cousin," says Agent Z.
"Slick," the boss says. "Real slick."
"They claim they did a national search for the school superintendent's job, $150,000 clams a year, and who turns up as one of the finalists? Douaihy's long lost cousin. But he swears they're not related. Then he gets mad at everybody who says she is. His buddies on the board play dumb – and some of them are as dumb as a slate blackboard as it is."
"Cy even hand-picked the interview committee," says Agent X.
"Nice touch," the boss says. "I hear they whittled the finalists down to three. And guess who's one of the three?"
The special ops agents laugh so hard they almost convulse.
"No, Cy's cousin."
"So here's what we're gonna do," the boss says.
"Convene a federal grand jury? Subpoena the whole school? Even the thousand or so politically-connected janitors who work part time?" asks AgentY.
"Convene a state grand jury and subpoena all the guys selling football tickets and taking bets on school property?" asks Agent Z.
"If we can persuade the local DA to take the case."
"What else, boss? What else?"
"Find out if it's legal to wire up a Scranton school director. Then send the goof everywhere wired for sound, meeting with vendors, teacher's union officials, other board members and administrators."
"Whoa, like shooting fish in a beer barrel," says Agent X
"Exactly," the boss says. "Even if we can't wire somebody we float the rumor that we did, that we wired up three school board members whether we did or not. Before every board meeting these esteemed public servants will all be hugging each other like real cousins, patting each other down, trying to feel the wire, just like in a cheesy Paul Sorvino mob movie. If nothing else they might be petrified to try to pull a fast one."
"And the people benefit."
"Yeah, and we will have done it for the children," the boss says. "Just like real school directors are supposed to do."
"But maybe we'll get lucky and really reel somebody in, boss," says Agent X.
"Reel justice?" says Agent Y.
"That's already been used," says Agent Z.
"So we recycle?"
"Right," says the boss. "Speaking of recycling…" Aw, never mind, that's a whole other investigation. Okay, lads, hit the streets. See you in Scranton."
Pennsylvania's new governor gets pale and weak-kneed at the mere mention of speaking off-the-cuff with newspaper reporters, editors and columnists as well as radio and television broadcast journalists. This dull terror bodes poorly for his - and our - success on the big stage of public service opportunity and, hopefully, state prosperity.
Wolf's fear is puzzling. Did his timidity contribute to his multi-million-dollar wealth and power? Did paranoia and trembling help him win a heated Democratic primary and eventual victory over a mean-spirited former federal prosecutor and burly governor?
Looks like it.
So imagine what a powerhouse Wolf could become if he develops the chops to take it on the chin when necessary, laugh it off and ask if that's all we've got. Put some teeth in Wolf's style and maybe he can help us gnaw our way out of a Pennsylvania prison of despair and lead us toward renewal and even good government in the Commonwealth of Corruption.
That's why I'm inviting Wolf to Corbett's Gym, a bust 'em-up, rock 'em sock 'em training camp for political pugs who truly want to serve the public and help restore the public trust.
Wolf's absence from the WILK News Radio airways during the primary as well as the general election remains seriously troubling. Wolf ran from us all – my Democratic as well as Republican colleagues. Not once did he call the show or respond to our many invitations to appear and speak to the people of Northeastern Pennsylvania he now represents.
One day when Wolf showed up at a hastily-called gathering in Wilkes-Barre, he high-tailed it from "Karel On The Street." What did WILK get for Karel's trouble? I got a weird on-air interview with "Bowzer" from Sha Na Na, who had showed up at the rally in emaciated oldies but goodies character to support Mr. Milquetoast.
C'mon, Wolfie, let the good times roll.
Pennsylvania deserves a leader who's not afraid to go off-script.
I realize that a cardboard campaign cut-out has more personality than the real deal, but hiding in the back seat of his Jeep will seriously harm Wolf's ability to do battle with government business sharks, crooked union bosses or special interest lobbyists out to fleece taxpayers and the needy while their profit margins swell with public cash.
That's why I'm willing to get Wolf in the ring and help teach him all I know about public speaking and even public relations.
First, fire the new press secretary. This is the same guy who blew off and disrespected the press during the campaign. Bowzer would make a better PR flack. Next, make some calls to members of the press – including me – and take whatever heat the most aggressive among us throw at you.
Then take the reins in an aggressive, yet polite, manner. Tell the gas drillers that you're coming for our money. Jump in the Jeep with a video crew. Drive to Dimock. Wave your boney little fist at a gas rig. Better yet, wave it at a roughneck. And kiss a baby even though the campaign is over. Tell the little bundle of indigestion that he or she will breathe easier now that you're there to save the day. Tell the rich that you're one of them but expect you all them to pay. Act like a heroic Bavarian chieftain of old who prefers the peasants over the feathered finery of your peers. Tell the gentry that you're there to help the poor. Wear a sword if need be.
The press will go wild. I'll go wild. I'll even accompany you to gas country in case one of those Confederate roughnecks acts up and you need a Yankee coal cracker to stand shoulder-to-shoulder with you on behalf of Pee-Ay people.
Am I dreaming?
You won't call. You won't take the jeep to Dimock. You won't fire the press secretary or stick it to the rich. Your bashful song and dance will likely define you and us as we drift into an uncertain future.
She spoke like him, she signed his name in his handwriting, and she accused family members of killing him. A little girl from Ghana possessed by the ghost of a man who died mysteriously? The story at PhantomsAndMonsters.com.
Turkey Hill Abandoned Sour Series
Sour Sweet Cherry Kolsch (1 Month)
Brett Saison (4 Months)
Brett Belgian Blonde Ale (17 Months) Bloomsburg, PA
Brewery: Turkey Hill Brewing Co
Brewmaster: Don Abraczinskas
The Scranton School District (SSD) board president must be upset that he won't get invited to the next family reunion because he says he doesn't recognize his own cousin. If that isn't bad enough, Cy might have jeopardized her shot at a fat school district salary and benefits that could help her relocate from Georgia and come home to hard coal country.
That Cy, he's a real peach all right – the king of hard head country.
Fuming and sputtering that the selection process is now tainted because word leaked that his distant cousin through marriage is a finalist for the job, Cy blames young board member Robert Casey for calling the process corrupt – which it is.
Casey says the selection process is tainted and should start all over again. Since I recommended the very same move on the air Wednesday night, of course, that suggestion sounds good to me.
After suffering more than his own share of tainted integrity, young Casey is now back in the driver's seat. The last time our young hero found himself in the driver's seat he rolled a car that didn't even belong to him and agreed to enter a first-offender's program for driving under the influence. The kid didn't even have a driver's license.
Rehab looks like it might be working for the 24-year-old recovering school board member who should have resigned his seat but chose to stay the course.
The latest dirty SSD joke broke wind about a month ago when the rumor mill kicked into high gear with word that Cy's distant cousin through marriage was a lock to get the new super's job. I received a dozen emails about how sides on the board were at each other's throats and how Cy was throwing his weight around like he was a thick defensive tackle on a bad high school football team trying to bully his way through the line of scrimmage.
So, on January 5, I emailed Cy.
Here's what I wrote:
Is your cousin from Georgia a finalist for the superintendent's job? Have you in any way, formally or informally, discussed increasing the superintendent's salary? Have you spoken with your cousin about this position? Have you spoken with any board members about your cousin or a salary increase for the position? Did you know your cousin applied for the job? Did you encourage her to apply for the job?"
Here's Cy's reply:
Neither I nor any other member of the Board is a relative of any of the applicants for the position of Superintendent of Schools. Nobody. As to your other questions; I have had absolutely no communication with any of the candidates. The Board has not discussed the increasing of the salary for the Superintendent's position, and I would be opposed to that move as we are no position financially to do so."
Now that the truth that Cy tried so hard to hide or didn't understand in the first place has oozed from the inner sanctum of the SSD, he cannot have anything to do with the selection process involving his cousin – or whoever that woman from down south happens to be.
A state ethics investigation at the very least is warranted. Each school board member also must be asked on the record when and how he or she first learned that Cy's cousin was a candidate for the public service job that pays close to $150,000 a year.
By the way, Cy, as a Scranton taxpayer and property owner, I'm angry too. Lots of people are angry, Cy. And I'll match a righteous anger produced by the power of the people against your sleazy windbag anger any day.
Raising our glasses that night in an East Scranton bar, we toasted "our Kathleen" Kane and her future political success. Smiling that big black Irish smile of hers, she seemed confident, smart and gutsy enough to pull off the upset we all believed she could.
Not long after that informal meeting, I attended a party loaded with Kane supporters willing to work to help her win state public office. About 100 people cheered when she walked into the room. What a grand campaign it would be.
No, I'm not talking about Kane's successful run to become Pennsylvania's first elected Democratic and female attorney general. I'm talking about Kane's rarely discussed failed plan to take out Democratic Party warlord and veteran state senator Bob Mellow, long before he got indicted, pleaded guilty and went to federal prison.
Just six of us gathered that night in the neighborhood saloon to encourage Kane to challenge Mellow in 2010, supporting her challenge to the feared powerbroker who few people in Northeastern Pennsylvania challenged about anything. Our Kathleen promised she would take the fight to Mellow.
Oh, she had a good reason. Eventually she told a small circle of friends that her husband's side of the family (the truckling company side) leaned on her because they feared losing a multi-million dollar state liquor hauling contract if she stood against Mellow, a malicious sucker puncher known for getting even at the slightest insult.
But that night of sparkling promise marked my first experience with what has become a pattern for Kane – a desperate political hustler who says one thing and does another – that clouds her judgment and eventually sends her close to the edge.
Kane is walking that edge right now, teetering and staring into the abyss. If she falls, I worry that she's willing to take us with her. The good citizens she is paid well to represent deserve better. So does her political party.
So I'm asking Kane to resign, leave quietly and come home.
Seek help, maybe counseling – and I don't mean huddling with crisis manager and celebrity lawyer Lanny Davis or one of the late Mafia don John Gotti's lawyers, both advisors who have checked into the Kane camp, whom she says she's personally paying for guidance. Save your money, Kathleen. With the divorce for which you recently filed, you'll need it. I'm giving you my best advice for free.
I felt sorry for Kane when her family pressured her unfairly. I felt sorry for her that night she walked into the room to rousing applause. Standing by her father, she looked lost, weak, and afraid. Some people have good reason to believe she had already met secretly with Mellow and on bended knee with a tear in her eye promised the vengeful political fixer to never challenge him about anything – not a good sign for a future corruption buster.
Granted, after becoming attorney general she charged Mellow with public corruption in a Turnpike case but a county judge called the case feeble and Kane did not protest. Had the case gone to trial, Mellow's lawyers strongly hinted that they hoped to capitalize on her past relationship with their client and cite her quest for revenge against her former nemesis.
I feel sorry for Kathleen now. After getting everything she supposedly wanted – power, status, privilege, money and more - she still has very little good to show for her trouble. Divorce, public humiliation by smarter prosecutors, possible indictment, an alleged concussion in a mysterious early morning car accident and maybe even a perp walk if she gets arrested for leaking grand jury testimony all shape a dismal future for her and for us.
If Kane truly cares about Pennsylvania, her hometown West Side Scranton neighborhood where she grew up and even her own sense of self-worth, she should step aside as gracefully as possible, work on healing her paranoid character flaws, commit to getting a simple life back together again and return to the tribe where she still has support. Some loyal neighbors still embrace an old-fashioned image of the woman they call Kathy - lovable, valuable and nice.
At 48, maybe she can salvage some last vestige of innocence in her life.