Saturday, July 25, 2015

Trial begins for former Philly judge accused of corruption

A lawyer for former Philadelphia Judge Willis W. Berry Jr. told a Common Pleas Court jury Monday that the criminal conflict-of-interest charges he faces were the result of retaliation by Berry's longtime secretary.

"There's no fury like a woman scorned," Nino V. Tinari told the jury in his opening statement.

Tinari said the state Attorney General's Office charged Berry only after his longtime secretary, Carolyn Fleming, went to the office after he fired her because she allegedly "siphoned $44,000" from his real estate business.

Berry, 72, is accused of using his judicial chambers and secretary, Fleming, to manage his private real estate business for much of his 16 years as a Common Pleas Court judge.

Prosecutors allege that Berry cheated Philadelphia taxpayers out of $110,000 using his judicial staff for his business.
That practice ended in 2007 with a judicial investigation of Berry following a series of Inquirer articles about how the judge moonlighted as a landlord and had court staff collect rent, repair 16 derelict properties, and handle real estate paperwork.

Berry was suspended without pay for four months in 2009 by the state's Court of Judicial Discipline on conflict-of-interest charges.

But Tinari, who is defending Berry with lawyer W. Fred Harrison Jr., blamed Fleming for Berry's problems and cast her actions as a betrayal of a man who hired her at 17, walked her down the aisle at her wedding, and named her in his will.

Tinari said that when Fleming followed Berry to the Criminal Justice Center in 1996 after his election, she got a "cushy" job where "if she worked four hours a day . . . that would be excessive."

Deputy Attorney General Daniel J. Dye said the evidence would prove that Berry conducted his personal business from chambers.

A first prosecution witness, Orlando Caquias, testified Monday that he usually dealt with Fleming, but twice talked with Berry in chambers about a Fairmount apartment he rented from the judge.
Dye told the jury of six men and six women that Berry's conduct was a theft of services he owed the taxpayers and conflict of interest.

"You're not here to run a property business, you're here to serve them," Dye added.

Despite Berry's 2009 suspension, no criminal charges were filed until May 2014, almost two years after he retired.

Berry's lawyers fought to get the charges thrown out, saying he was being prosecuted for an offense for which he had already been punished.

A month before the criminal charges were filed, the state Supreme Court suspended Berry's law license for a year and one day over an $180,000 civil fraud judgment in a lawsuit by a woman who said Berry fraudulently acquired title to a North Philadelphia property.

Berry considered a guilty-plea offer from state prosecutors, but rejected it after learning it could endanger the $6,010-a-month judicial pension he has drawn since he retired in September 2012.
Berry's trial is being held at the city's Criminal Justice Center - the same building where he served as judge - before Common Pleas Court Judge S. Gerald Corso, a senior judge from Montgomery County.

Full Article & Source:
Trial begins for former Philly judge accused of corruption

See Also:
Former Phila. Judge Willis W. Berry Jr. arrested on corruption charges

Ex-judge's lawyer questions corruption charges

Supreme Court suspends former Phila. judge's law license

1 comment:

Anonymous said...

He said - she said. I wonder how it will turn out.