Pa. court: County judge went too far to aid veteran
STROUDSBURG, Pa. — The Pennsylvania Superior Court has ruled that Pike County Judge Joseph Kameen lacked the authority to grant early release from jail to a serial drunken driving offender who has been at the center of a months-long controversy.
A year ago, Army veteran Timothy Flaherty was sentenced to one year and 90 days to five years in jail for a DUI crash that injured a person in Milford and another DUI in Westfall Township.
Flaherty had faced a minimum of two years, but the sentences were ordered to be served at the same time. Only two weeks into his sentence, Kameen released Flaherty from jail to attend a program at the Montrose VA Hospital in Montrose, N.Y.
Flaherty claimed he had suffered combat-related injuries in Afghanistan and that he had received a Purple Heart during his service. Later investigation by the Pike County District Attorney's Office obtained statements by a brigadier general of the U.S. Army and other fellow service members that refuted Flaherty's claims.
The statements revealed that his injuries were not the result of enemy combat and that Flaherty had become ill and suddenly collapsed. Official military records also showed that Flaherty did not receive a Purple Heart during his service in Afghanistan.
During his release from jail, Flaherty was charged with possession of alcohol on VA grounds. After that incident, Flaherty was ordered to return to the Pike County Jail.
The district attorney's office appealed to the Superior Court the decision to grant Flaherty early release.
The higher court ruling turned on the question of whether the lower court had the authority to grant Flaherty a furlough given the length of his sentence.
"Section 9813, which authorizes courts to allow offenders sentenced to a maximum term of less than five years to leave jail for lawful purposes, became effective Nov. 24, 2008. The fact that the statute does not apply to offenders serving a maximum sentence of five years does not conflict with the sentencing provisions of the DUI law. Rather, the Legislature has made a policy decision that repeat DUI offenders must serve their minimum mandatory sentence ... before the court may furlough them to receive treatment," the Superior Court ruling reads.
"Notwithstanding its good intentions, the Court of Common Pleas of Pike County did not have authority to grant Flaherty's request for a furlough."
In a separate opinion, Superior Court President Judge John T. Bender wrote: "Under the circumstances presented by this case, I believe that the trial court's decision to seek the protection of society and the rehabilitation of Appellant by means other than incarceration was both reasonable and just. ... Given the text of the statutes at issue, and without additional procedures or rules for 'problem solving' in Pike County, it was not within the province of the trial court, or this Court, to fashion an equitable exception.
"On a final note, only 17 of the Commonwealth's 67 counties have adopted alternative dispute resolution processes for veterans, and Pike County is not one of the 17 to have done so. In my view, this disparity in the adoption of alternative procedures and rules to address situations such as this one cries for greater attention by the proper policy makers to the laws that necessarily govern our review of this appeal. I thus respectfully, but reluctantly, join in the result reached in the above opinion."
In January, on the heels of the controversy surrounding the Flaherty case, Pike County commissioners said they would consider establishing a veterans court.
Pike County District Attorney Ray Tonkin said he was satisfied with the Superior Court decision.
"Here we had a man connected to a sitting county commissioner who fabricated claims of heroism and falsely claimed to have received one of our nation's highest military awards in order to gain lenient treatment after his third conviction. ... I am satisfied that the Superior Court upheld the law as written. The case should have never had to go that far."
Tonkin was referring to Commissioner Rich Caridi, who had gone to bat for Flaherty. Caridi could not be reached for comment Tuesday.