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In The Courts Recent News

Burlington Vicinage Announces Reduced Fee Referral Program

The Burlington Vicinage, in partnership with the Burlington County Bar Association, will begin a program to help provide legal services for litigants who do not qualify for legal aid or a public defender, Assignment Judge Jeanne T. Covert and Trial Court Administrator Alba R. Rivera announced on May 8, 2020.

The Reduced Fee Referral Program, one of only a handful in the state, will provide legal services to those litigants who do not qualify for legal aid or a public defender and who cannot otherwise afford to retain counsel.

The program will offer legal representation either for a discounted flat fee or at a reduced hourly rate in cases in municipal court and in every division of the Superior Court.

The bar association will prepare a Zoom presentation in the coming months to explain the program to its members and to recruit willing attorneys interested in providing their services.

“I am extremely pleased to announce a brand-new initiative entitled ‘The Reduced Fee Referral Program,’ and it could not be timelier, or more needed, given the financial difficulties many are now experiencing,” Judge Covert said.

After studying Morris County’s successful Reduced Fee Referral Program, a working group comprised of family division attorney Reema Scaramella and Assistant Public Defender Kevin Walker, who chaired the group, and attorneys Berge Tumaian, Nicholas J. Sansone and Christopher Baxter, developed and tailored a program for Burlington County.

At its April meeting, the bar association’s board of trustees unanimously endorsed the proposal of the working group.

The program is expected to begin operating within the next few months. Judge Covert expressed her gratitude for the attorneys’ quick work in developing the program within a matter of months.

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In The Courts News

William D. Stroemel, of Maple Shade, Pleads Guilty to Shooting Neighbor’s Dog

On April 29, 2020, Burlington County Prosecutor Scott Coffina announced that a 64-year-old Maple Shade man pled guilty in Superior Court to shooting a neighbor’s dog with an air rifle last year.

Under an agreement with the Prosecutor’s Office, William D. Stroemel, of Fifth Avenue, pled guilty to Possession of a Weapon for an Unlawful Purpose (Second Degree) and Animal Cruelty (Third Degree) in exchange for a five-year term in New Jersey state prison.

The conditions of the plea forbid Stroemel from having contact with Toby’s owners, and he must make restitution for the cost of Toby’s veterinary care and necropsy. The Hon. Gerard H. Breland, J.S.C. scheduled sentencing for July 29, 2020.

The investigation began on September 18, 2019 after police were contacted by Toby’s owners, the Cook family, who live in the 800 block of Greenwood Avenue. They told police that the poodle had been discovered howling in pain by a neighbor the previous day. An examination by a veterinarian revealed that he had been shot in the head. Toby was euthanized a day after being shot.

The investigation, which was conducted by detectives from the Maple Shade Police Department, revealed that Stroemel shot Toby with the air rifle while the dog was passing his home in the street, and then gave the gun to an acquaintance and asked him to hold it for him.

“There are few criminal acts as callous as shooting an innocent dog that is the beloved pet of one of your neighbors,” Prosecutor Coffina said. “But Toby was not just a family pet, he was also a therapy dog and helped relieve the post-traumatic stress disorder experienced by a Vietnam War veteran. Such flagrant disregard for life and the impact of one’s actions demands serious punishment, and we believe this plea agreement reflects that.”

Stroemel, a heavy equipment operator who is also known as Wild Willie, was initially charged with weapons offenses following the discovery of a .22 caliber pistol during the execution of a search warrant at his residence. Additional charges were added after a necropsy was performed and the pellet removed from Toby’s head was connected to an air rifle in Stroemel’s possession at the time of the shooting.

Stroemel is being prosecuted by Assistant Prosecutor Melissa O’Mara, with assistance in the investigation by Assistant Prosecutor Nicole Handy.

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In The Courts Recent News

South Jersey Tax Preparer Admits Filing False Income Tax Returns

A South Jersey woman who owns a tax preparation business admitted on April 28, 2020 to helping her clients file falsified tax returns, U.S. Attorney Craig Carpenito announced.

Gloria Valentin, 48, of Cherry Hill, New Jersey, pleaded guilty by teleconference before U.S. District Judge Renee Marie Bumb in Camden federal court to an information charging her with one count of aiding and assisting in the preparation of false income tax returns.

According to documents filed in this case and statements made in court:

Valentin owned, operated and approved all of the income tax returns filed by GNG Business Solutions in Cinnaminson. She admitted that she prepared approximately 60 income tax returns for 27 tax clients during tax years 2013 through 2016. Those tax returns contained similar patterns of false and fictitious Schedule A itemized deductions and unreimbursed employee business expenses. Valentin and her employees fabricated Schedule A, unreimbursed employee business expenses when none were incurred. Those false expenses resulted in substantially reduced income tax liabilities and resulted in larger refunds for her clients and caused a tax loss of $201,896 to the government.

The charges to which Valentin pleaded guilty carry a maximum potential penalty of three years in prison and a $250,000 fine.

Sentencing is scheduled for Sept. 8, 2020.

U.S. Attorney Carpenito credited special agents of IRS-Criminal Investigation, under the direction of Acting Special Agent in Charge Laura J. Perry, with the investigation leading to today’s guilty plea.

The government is represented by Senior Trial Counsel Jason M. Richardson of the U.S. Attorney’s Office Criminal Division in Camden.

To view the Complaint, click here.

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Bright Side In The Courts News Recent News

Atlantic/Cape May Vicinage Employees Organize Face Mask Drive for Co-workers

In a show of support for their colleagues on the frontline during the COVID-19 pandemic, employees in the New Jersey Judiciary’s Atlantic/Cape May Vicinage sewed more than 250 face masks within a matter of days before distributing them on Monday, April 20.

Karen Michael, an administrative specialist in the court user resource center, had been sewing masks for frontline workers at a local hospital when she proposed the idea of a vicinage-wide face mask drive for Judiciary employees who continue to interact directly with members of the public.

Judges, staff, and their friends and family volunteered materials and their sewing skills to produce washable cloth masks for probation officers supervising clients in the community and employees reporting to the courthouses to facilitate case processing.

Probation Officer Andrew Harrigan and his son Logan volunteered to make face masks for the Atlantic/Cape May Vicinage employees working on the frontline during the COVID-19 pandemic. (Image credit: New Jersey Judiciary)

“The creative, altruistic idea of one person has resulted in good will and safety for many,” said Trial Court Administrator Howard Berchtold Jr. “This mask-making drive, inspired by a desire to assist the Atlantic/Cape May Vicinage family, yielded more than 250 cloth masks to enable employees to continue to leave their homes to serve the public.”

The initiative began with a material donation drop-off at the three courthouses in Atlantic and Cape May counties. Michael put the call out for cloth, elastic, thread, large rubber bands, blue shop paper towels and zip-up plastic bags.

Image credit: New Jersey Judiciary

Within four days, she received enough material to cut out the 250 masks by hand and assembled the kits that were distributed to the 15 sewing volunteers. The kits also contained “Made by” cards, which contained personal messages from the sewing volunteers, to build a connection between the maker and the recipient.

Sharnett Clark, vicinage chief probation officer. said the masks will help the officers maintain contact with their clients while staying safe.

“As essential employees in probation, we are forever grateful for such acts of kindness,” Clark said.