Chester County DA Attempt to Criminalize Politics Thwarted

Tom Shepstone
Shepstone Management Company, Inc.

The Chester County DA, Deb Ryan, following in the footsteps of her predecessor, has tried to criminalize pipeline politics but has failed.

That parts of our justice system are becoming more and more like those of a banana republic can no longer be denied. It’s everywhere.

Consider, the case of the Chester County constables, which we have covered before, here and here, for example. At root, it’s about how the comforts of suburban living turned voters into easily demagogued NIMBY and “Build Absolutely Nothing Anywhere Near Anyone” BANANA types. Laws, needs and rights were shoved aside by those appealing for votes as the politics of building infrastructure was criminalized. The entirely legal hiring of off-duty constables to provide security services was turned into a supposed “buy-a-badge scheme” by prosecutors scheming to construct political careers on the backs of the targeted marks. But, the good news is that it has failed, yet again.

chester county

DA Deb Ryan, busted flat in Chester County

Readers will recall Chester County DA Deb Ryan, like her predecessor, has wanted to firmly establish herself as lord protector of the suburban NIMBY gang opposed to Energy Transfer’s Mariner East. When, due to her allies harassing pipeline workers and so forth, Mariner East decided to hire off-duty constables to provide security support at job sites, Ryan decided to go after the company, ginning up the “buy-a-badge” theme for a good story. The District Justice threw it out. So, Chester County’s DA decided to make another run at it by going after a representative, James Murphy, of the security enterprise that provided the constables. That case ended up in the Chester County Court of Common Pleas. It also ended up badly for Ryan.

You can read the decision by Chester County Judge Jeffrey Sommers here, and the salient points (bear in mind “the Commonwealth” is DA Deb Ryan in this instance) follow (emphasis added):

Defendant has been charged with Bribery, 18 Pa.C.S. 54701; Dealing in Unlawful Proceeds, 18 Pa.C.S.S5111; and Criminal Conspiracy, 18 Pa.C.S. 5903, relating to Dealing in Unlawful Proceeds, Bribery, and Restricted Activities, 65 Pa.C.S. 51103 (A) and (C). A preliminary hearing was held on August 13, 2020, before Magisterial District Judge John Bailey. At such time, the Commonwealth presented the testimony of journalist Dan Zegart and Detective Ben Martin…

Based upon the facts established at the preliminary hearing and set forth herein, the Commonwealth has not established a prima facie case for the charges listed above…

In the instant case, Mr. Zegart stated that the unidentified constable appeared to have an insignia and a badge on his hip…

While the constable had a badge on his hip and a shirt with insignia, he did not, without more evidence, attempt to assert himself as a constable performing a government function. While the evidence shows that the foreman made arrest assertions, as well as statements that the constable works for the State of Pennsylvania, the constable himself did not make such statements, nor was the constable present to disavow such statements. Since the constable did intend or attempt to depict himself as a constable performing a government function, the Commonwealth’s bribery change fails to demonstrate that Mr. Murphy agreed to obtain a benefit from a public servant or a party official

As previously discussed, the evidence presented by the Commonwealth did not establish an element of unlawful activity because the constables, without more evidence, did not act as public servants. More importantly, the Commonwealth did not establish that Mr. Murphy conducted a financial transaction with knowledge of, or intent to promote an unlawful activity…

Finally, the Commonwealth was required to establish a prima facie case that defendant, agreed with another person or persons that they or one or more of them will engage in conduct which constitutes such crime or an attempt or solicitation to commit such crime; or (2) agreed to aid such other person or persons in the planning or commission of such crime or of an attempt or solicitation to commit such crime. See 18 Pa.C.S. 5903 (Criminal Conspiracy).

As stated above, Mr. Murphy, through his employer, distributed payments to the constables. The Commonwealth argues that Mr. Murphy was in charge of operating the business, yet Detective Martin testified that he was not able to confirm that Mr. Murphy was an officer or partner at Raven Knights. Without more evidence, the notion that Mr. Murphy was in change, or knowingly cooperated in what is alleged here to be a crime, is simply speculative. Thus, the Commonwealth failed to provide sufficient evidence that Mr. Murphy agreed to engage in conduct that constitutes a crime or solicitation to commit a crime.

After thorough review of the transcript of the preliminary hearing, we have determined that the Commonwealth has not presented a prima facie case sufficient to hold Mr. Murphy for the specified charges.

The decision speaks for itself but it’s worth noting a couple of things. First, notice how a journalist became part of the story. How did that happen? Secondly, there is the matter of the outrageous over-the-top charges; bribery and criminal conspiracy being among them. Finally, there is the simple fact Ryan couldn’t back up much of anything she asserted. It was sloppy is as sloppy does. It was banana republic stuff, indeed, but the court of Judge Jeffrey R. Sommers would have none of it, fortunately. Now, if we could just clone him…

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