Wednesday, September 24, 2014

Nary a peep

Well, it's been 14 days since the story broke that the state attorney general had charged a former magisterial district judge in Fayette County with perjury and obstructing the administration of justice for allegedly fixing a drunk driving case.

The circumstances surrounding the incident that led to those charges, filed against long-time DJ Dwight Shaner, involve a cast of characters that include current county District Attorney Jack Heneks and current Common Pleas Judge (and at the time assistant district attorney) Linda Cordero.

Surely, we thought by now that the intrepid editorial board of the Uniontown Herald-Standard would have weighed in on the situation. But as we've scoured the pages of the local paper, the only court-related official commentary we've seen is a Sept. 19 "Jeer" that began thusly: "What the heck was juror Ronnie Bryner of Mill Run thinking when he left the Fayette County Courthouse last August without being excused or released?" Bryner, poor fellow, has been cited for contempt for his actions. The editorial admonition of Bryner ended with, "Let's hope that (Judge John F.) Wagner's stern warning serves as a wakeup call for Bryner and anyone else who might have similar thoughts."

Call us crazy -- and we know some of you will, because childish name-calling is your specialty -- but we think that a situation of alleged case-fixing involving three elected officials who work at three critical levels of the county's judicial system is of far greater importance than the actions of a juror who goes AWOL.

You can read more of the Shaner-Heneks-Cordaro story details here or here or here

The Clift Notes version of the saga goes like this: State trooper shows up in Shaner's court for 2011 preliminary hearing on man's crash-related DUI charge. Defendant in case is nephew of assistant district attorney Cordaro, who shows up representing the DA's office. Cordaro recuses herself at last minute; Shaner takes unusual move of asking trooper for witnesses. Shaner refuses trooper's request for a continuance, Shaner dismisses the case, trooper is PO'ed. Heneks refuses trooper's request to refile the charges, concerned citizen gets wind of what happened and files complaint with AG Kathleen Kane, AG's office begins investigation and directs trooper to refile charges, nephew ends up pleading guilty, Cordaro ends up being elected to Fayette County judgeship in 2013 and now sits in that position.

There's so much here worth commenting on, especially if you consider yourself the "newspaper of record" for Fayette County. The question that begs answering is, "Why hasn't that happened yet?" This stuff all comes straight from a grand jury presentment from a proceeding convened by the state Attorney General, not some hand-scribbled text on scratch paper that arrived at the newspaper office in an anonymous letter with postage due.

Here are the questions we'd like to see the newspaper address editorially. (And if they're too busy slamming guys who skip out on jury duty, all they have to do is circle the answer that best aligns with their thoughts.)

Was it appropriate for Cordaro to even show up in Shaner's courtroom that day, since the defendant was her nephew? YES ... NO ... MAYBE ... MAN DON'T MAKE US ADDRESS THAT.

Was it appropriate for Shaner to dismiss the charges, or to then tell the state policeman as detailed in the grand jury report, "Hey, trooper, I hope you understand. I'm catching a little heat from Linda (Cordaro) because that is her nephew"? YES ... NO ... MAYBE ... MAN YOU'RE REALLY PUTTING US ON THE SPOT HERE.

Was it appropriate for Heneks to initially refuse to refile the charges, using the excuse that he needed witnesses who could put the nephew behind the wheel, when after AG intervention the nephew ended up pleading guilty instead of going to trial? YES ... NO ... MAYBE ... HEY NOBODY SHOULD GET AWAY WITH SKIPPING JURY DUTY.

Is it appropriate for Cordaro to remain a sitting Fayette County judge, in light of her role as a key figure in this legal drama? YES ... NO ... MAYBE ... THE VOTERS SPOKE IN NOVEMBER SO WHAT THE HECK CAN WE DO.

This case strikes at the heart of the operation of the Fayette County legal system, which should operate without favoritism. Saying something -- good, bad or indifferent -- is better than saying nothing at all. It's called doing your job.

Justice is supposed to be blind, not the editorial board of any self-respecting newspaper.

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