Graduate of the the University of Pittsburgh, BA Political Science/History; and The Penn State Dickinson School of Law
I am a licensed attorney with over a 10 years of trial experience and an extensive background in criminal law. I previously served as an assistant public defender with the Chester County Public Defender’s Office and was a judicial law clerk to the Honorable Penny L. Blackwell of the York County Court of Common Pleas.
Lauren Holt for Magisterial District Judge
The are several sentencing alternative programs available to criminal defendants in the Chester County court system such as Drug Court, Mental Health Court and Veterans Court. They are aimed at treating, rehabilitating and keeping people out of our prison systems while under the supervision of the court. While I am very familiar with these programs, having had several clients participate in these programs during my tenure as a Chester County Assistant Public Defender, I will not have the jurisdiction to sentence anyone to these programs as a Magisterial District Judge as they are typically only available to defendants facing misdemeanor and felony charges.
At the MDJ level, the Judge can only issue a final disposition of a summary offense, which carries a maximum possible sentence of 90 days in jail and $300 fine, but rarely is jail time sought by the Commonwealth in those instances. While there are no specific sentencing alternative programs available to defendants at the MDJ level, the rules do allow for the court to offer alternative dispositions where appropriate. This most often happens for first time offenders caught underage drinking, for example. These alternative programs would allow for a defendant to avoid a conviction and maintain a clean criminal record after completing specific conditions such as community services, drug/alcohol treatment, job training or other educational training.
While I will not have an opportunity to be involved with the sentencing alternative programs like Drug Court and Mental Health court while serving as an MDJ, I will likely be the first to address bail for those cases. Therefore, I will haven an opportunity to impose bail conditions such as directing that a defendant undergo a mental health and/or drug and alcohol evaluations and follow all recommendations for treatment. Therefore, by the time the defendant is before the Court of Common Pleas, and if it is determined that they qualify and are appropriate for one of these programs, it is possible that they will have already have taken the first steps necessary to complete the sentencing alternative programs.
Appearing before a Magisterial District Judge is the first step in the criminal justice system for many, if not all, facing criminal charges. Therefore it is the first time that bail is addressed. With regards to cash bail, it should be the exception and not the norm in cases involving non-violent offenses. However, in determining bail for any offense, an MDJ should consider the information provided to the court by the defendant, the prosecutor and the county bail agency/pre-trial services department before making a determination.
Not only should an MDJ use that information to determine whether or not to incarcerate a defendant pending trial, they should also use that opportunity to consider the imposition of specific bail conditions. For example, an MDJ can order that a defendant undergo a mental health and/or a drug and alcohol evaluation should they feel that that particular condition is appropriate and beneficial for all parties.
With regards to plea bargaining, MDJs should not involve themselves in negotiations between the parties. The MDJ should only consider whether a plea agreement presented to the court should be accepted or rejected, if the terms themselves would be a miscarriage of justice. An MDJ is not running a fair and equitable court if all plea agreements are blindly accepted without consideration. Regarding sentencing, the MDJ should consider all of the information provided by the parties, the appropriate factors for consideration in sentencing and whether an alternative disposition would be more appropriate in the case before imposing any sentence.
As an MDJ, I would give every case before me due consideration and allow all parties to have a chance to be heard in court. Off the bench, I will educate myself on all legal changes and rule updates, just as I do as a licensed attorney in complying with yearly continuing legal education requirements.
Kings College, Wilkes-Barre, Cum Laude, 1973;
Temple University School of law, 1976
Trial Experience before district magistrates and county courts; Admitted to practice before the U.S. District Court for the Eastern District of Pennsylvania; My experience goes far beyond the Courtroom; 45 years of legal experience in both private and public sectors; Served as General Counsel to corporations; Represented numerous municipalities; Active in Community service; 13 years of service on Great Valley School Board with 3 years as Board President; Served as Minister of Eucharist and Lector at St. Patrick Parish, Malvern, PA; Vice Chairman and Secretary of Race 4 The House, a Section 501(c) (3) organization dedicated to raising funds for Ronald's House in Philadelphia, PA.
(a) A Program of Restorative Justice: These are programs which involve all parties (victims, offenders, the community affected and the legislature to acknowledge the need to repair the harm done by the specific offence committed. This would involve restitution to the victim, counseling for both victim and offender, rehabilitation of offender by community service which would allow the offender to re-enter society. Incarceration should be the last resort. (b) A program which includes substance abuse prevention, work training, parent counseling and work release. (c) A program which is specifically designed for teenagers in offences such as theft, truancy, disorderly conduct and vandalism. The offender would be given an opportunity to explain why the offense was committed but the charges should be admitted. Counseling and probation would be included.
In addition to implementing the programs described in the first response as much as possible from the bench, I would address these matters with various School Boards to promote an awareness of the need for such programs. I would also lobby before the State Legislature. Education is the most valuable tool.