No wisdom from Solomon
Preliminary hearings are typically prosecution slam-dunks. Prosecutors present minimum evidence to show a crime occurred and the defendant likely committed it. Defendants usually are bound over to Common Pleas Court.
So it was stunning when, after a seven-hour hearing, Harrisburg District Justice Joseph Solomon dismissed all corruption charges against former state House Democratic Whip Mike Veon and former district office chief Annamarie Peretta-Rosepink. They were accused of misusing thousands of dollars from a nonprofit corporation Veon founded called the Beaver Initiative for Growth, or BIG.
The state Attorney General's Office refiled most of the charges and will likely present the case to a Common Pleas judge rather than to Solomon again. Veon and Peretta-Rosepink are among 12 Democrats who face criminal charges in a separate case for allegedly using state resources for campaigns.
Solomon's explanations for dismissing the charges were incredible. He said there had been no "conclusive evidence," which is a standard prosecutors did not need to meet.
What the public didn't know was that Solomon was friends with some bonus-scandal defendants who allegedly took their orders from Veon. One acquaintance was Jeffrey Foreman, Veon's chief of staff, a key witness for the prosecution in the BIG case against Veon. Foreman testified that his law firm received a $4,000 monthly retainer from BIG at Veon's suggestion but didn't do enough work to earn it.
Foreman, a bonus-scandal defendant, was the only one of the 12 defendants last July who was quietly arraigned by Solomon, minus the media and a perp walk.
Yet Solomon presided at the BIG hearing where Foreman was grilled by Veon's attorney Dan Raynak. In its motion for a new judge, the Attorney General's Office argued that Solomon "permitted extensive cross examination." Solomon did not return phone calls last week.
Solomon had recused himself from the bonus-scandal preliminary hearing last July because of his associations with some defendants.
Solomon told The Patriot-News of Harrisburg he presided at the wedding of bonus-scandal defendant Patrick Lavelle, who has agreed to plead guilty for being a full-time campaign fundraiser for Veon on the taxpayers' dime. Solomon also said last July that defendant Brett Cott, a former Veon aide, may have worked on one of his campaigns. Cott did not recall it. But clearly they have met socially. Cott sat through the entire BIG hearing as a spectator.
Solomon told the newspaper he didn't believe he had to recuse himself from the Veon hearing on BIG because he met Veon only twice.
"Mike Veon was completely and totally vindicated by a judge (Solomon) who used the proper standard and decided that the prosecution could not even meet the lowest possible threshold of evidence required in a preliminary criminal proceeding," Raynak said.
Solomon, who had worked for the Democratic State Committee and PennDOT before winning election as a magistrate in 1981, was apparently sending a shot over the bow of Republican Attorney General Tom Corbett, a likely candidate for governor.
He was off base in his ruling and never should have heard the case.
Solomon late last week did recuse himself from the second BIG preliminary hearing. That raises the question of why he didn't in the first place.