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Druce Wants Home ConfinementTo Count Toward Prison Sentence

Former state lawmaker Thomas Druce plans to surrender to authorities tomorrow to begin serving his prison sentence for a 1999 hit-and-run, but he has asked the trial court to give him credit for time he spent confined to his home under electronic surveillance for the last three years.

In Dauphin County Common Pleas Court yesterday, Druce’s attorney, William Costopoulos, filed an answer to the prosecution’s request that the court revoke Druce’s bail and give him credit for 56 days he served in a prison in 2000 before posting bail.

In his answer, Costopoulos said the bail issue is moot because of Druce’s plan to turn himself in tomorrow morning.

But, calling Druce’s home a “prison without bars,” Costopoulos argued that Druce’s release on bail constituted “custody” for purposes of earning credit for time served under the state sentencing guidelines.

Under home confinement, Druce wore an electronic ankle bracelet, was confined to his house from 10 p.m. to 6 a.m., and was subject to random, unannounced searches of his home and person, said Costopoulos, an attorney at Costopoulos Foster & Fields in Lemoyne.

“Our position is that for those hours he was ordered to remain in the house and was subject to electronic monitoring and random searches by the authorities, he should be given credit for that time,” Costopoulos said.

Druce is not seeking credit for the daytime hours when he was permitted to go to work and take his children to school but for the eight night-time hours he was confined to the house each day for the last 40 months, Costopoulos said.

Costopoulos is relying on a 2001 state Supreme Court decision, Commonwealth v. Chiappini, which held that home confinement is punitive and can be considered confinement for credit off a sentence if monitoring and random searches are involved.

Dauphin County District Attorney Ed Marsico did not immediately return calls for comment yesterday but said last week that he would fight any attempt by Druce to get credit for the time he was under electronic surveillance.

“Our position is that being at home is not equivalent to being incarcerated,” Marsico said.

Druce was essentially “free to come and go as he pleased,” Marsico said, noting that he had been given permission to travel out of state when he went to the Jersey Shore for family vacations.

Druce reported to probation officials by e-mail daily, Marsico said.

In 2000, Druce pleaded guilty to a fatal hit-and-run in Harrisburg that police said he tried to cover up. Shortly thereafter, Druce, a Republican, resigned from his seat in the state House, where he represented the 144th District in Bucks County.

After he was sentenced to two to four years’ imprisonment in 2000, Druce appealed, arguing that the trial judge should have recused himself for comments he made to a newspaper reporter about the legislator’s guilty plea.

The judge, Joseph H. Kleinfelter, refused the request, and last week, the Pennsylvania Supreme Court upheld that decision. The justices held that Kleinfelter was not required to recuse himself and that Druce’s sentence was not an “unduly harsh” one because of his position as an elected official.

- Melissa Nann

Pa. Justices Defer to Superior Court On Effort to Keep PPA Cases in Phila.

The initiative by a group of local trial lawyers to stop the removal from Philadelphia’s complex litigation center of PPA claims brought by out-of-state plaintiffs hit its first snag last week.

In a per curiam order, the state Supreme Court denied five firms’ applications for exercise of the court’s King’s Bench powers in Engstrom, et al. v. Bayer Corp. In October, complex litigation center coordinating Judge Norman Ackerman had dismissed on inconvenient forum grounds the suits brought against Pittsburgh-based Bayer by the five out-of-state plaintiffs named in the King’s Bench brief.

But the trial lawyers will get the chance to seek redress through the regular channels: They filed a Superior Court appeal along with the King’s Bench brief, and oral arguments before the lower court are scheduled for this morning.

The cases all involved injuries allegedly stemming from the plaintiffs’ ingestion of phenylpropanolamine (PPA), which used to be a common ingredient in over-the-counter cold medications.

Out of 31 PPA cases slated for trial about the time Ackerman granted Bayer’s forum non conveniens motions in the five Engstrom cases, six had been brought by Pennsylvanians.

Signing on to the brief were attorneys from Anapol Schwartz Weiss Cohan Feldman & Smalley, Kline & Specter, Levin Fishbein Sedran & Berman, Levy Angstreich Finney Baldante Rubenstein & Coren, and the Locks Law Firm.

Arnold Levin of Levin Fishbein will argue before the Superior Court on behalf of the signatories to the brief, said Levin Fishbein attorney Michael Weinkowitz, who co-authored the brief.

“It would appear that the Supreme Court has decided to defer a ruling to the Superior Court,” Weinkowitz said. “Ultimately, these cases will end up back before the trial court or on appeal to the Supreme Court. Hopefully, we will know soon.”

Despite the denial from the Supreme Court, Weinkowitz said he does not believe that the high court is casting the issue aside.

“I think they want [the case] to work its way up,” Weinkowitz said. “But who can predict?”

Bayer is being represented in the matter by Albert Bixler of Eckert Seamans Cherin & Mellott. Bixler did not immediately respond to calls seeking comment.

- Asher Hawkins

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