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Tuesday
Mar022010

431. Mating habits of the domestic judge, Pennsylvania version

Pennsylvania's Judge C. Joseph Rehkamp was foolish enough to drink the water at the Luzerne County Courthouse, that ill-proportioned lump of architectural notions, when he was persuaded to venture down from his roost in Perry County to fill in for the gangster judges caught collecting "finders' fees" for selling children. 

We already learned the lamentable results of Judge Rehkamp's ill-advised sip.  (See post 417.)  But the domestic violence charges against him were dropped when -- all together now -- his wife declined to testify against him at preliminary hearing.

According to the Scranton Times-Tribune,

[Magisterial] Judge Whittaker overruled prosecutors who argued he could compel the victim to testify and/or allow the case to proceed based on the testimony of the arresting officer and Mrs. Rehkamp's 18-year-old son, Lee Elliot Egenlauf, who allegedly witnessed the assault.

The testimony of an eyewitness isn't enough to establish probable cause?!? Let that be a lesson to all you young judges out there: always be nice to the magistrates, even if like Pennsylvania's magisterial judges they're not necessarily lawyers, because you never know when they'll be in a position to return the favor.

18-year-old Lee saved his mother when the judge was strangling her, according to this Wilkes-Barre Citizens' Voice story, which also contains the magistrate's charmingly fatutous metaphysical flight and the prosecutor's untoppable comeback:

Magisterial District Judge Donald L. Whittaker dismissed the charges moments after Valerie Rehkamp, sitting on the witness stand, said she did not want to proceed.

Assistant District Attorney Nancy Violi had subpoenaed Mrs. Rehkamp and other witnesses and asked Whittaker to allow her a chance to question them.

Whittaker refused.

"No victim, no crime, the case is dismissed" Whittaker said.

"If that were the rule, we'd never prosecute a homicide case in Luzerne County," Violi said.

The Citizens' Voice adds this interesting detail about the first prelim:

Rehkamp's defense attorney, William Costopoulos, told the Voice that Rehkamp and his current wife, Valerie, were discussing a financial arrangement under which she would drop criminal charges and they would move for a divorce. ...

Valerie Rehkamp, 50, initially agreed to cooperate with prosecutors, then refused to testify at Rehkamp's Feb. 16 preliminary hearing.

We can do this divorce the easy way or the hard way.  It's up to you, Valerie.  Is testifying at the prelim really worth years of hellish litigation? 

Anyway, nothing daunted, the prosecutor refiled charges, adding a bit more detail and asking for a new magistrate (a real one this time, please):

Judge Charles Joseph Rehkamp admitted to grabbing his wife, Valerie, by the neck and pushing her into a chair during an argument at their Plymouth Twp. home on Jan. 16, a police affidavit says. ...

The affidavit filed Tuesday includes ... an allegation that police photographed red marks on his wife's neck.

It all happened on the couple's first anniversary, sweetly enough.

The judge was able to see the silver lining in this dark cloud: he used his suspension from office as an excuse for skipping alimony payments to his first wife

According to court documents, Rehkamp's assets include: an investment retirement account at a Juniata bank worth $165,580 as of a Dec. 31, 2008 accounting; an investment portfolio with Oppenheimer and Co. of unknown value; a Porsche 911 sports car; $28,000 worth of jewelry he purchased on a single day in 2008 and 45 acres of land in Perry County.

The judge reportedly shelled out $218,000 to pay off his daughter's tax debt, which might show admirable familial loyalty, though if I were the first wife's lawyer I'd be very suspicious.  Maybe where the daughter lives it's customary for tax officials to require first-degree relatives to pony up in cash rather than establishing a payment plan with the taxpayer herself.  Then again....

Nonetheless, there is a somber side to the story.  That Porsche.  That $28,000 in jewelry bought on a single day during the months before his second marriage.  I'm afraid the diagnosis is unavoidable: late-onset midlife-crisis clichedom.

But the judge isn't taking the refiling of charges lying down: today he filed a motion to dismiss, claiming selective prosecution.  After all, other husbands in Luzerne County are allowed to choke their wives, so why's the prosecution picking on him?

Reader Comments (4)

Judge Rehkamp owned a 15% stake in the company which didn't pay withholding taxes according to a memo filed by wife's attorney on December 2, 2009. Judge Smith totally ignores this fact but Rehkamp's 15% interest is shown on the exhibits at the courthouse. He wasn't bailing out his kid but himeself. The judge brought in to hear Rehkamp's divorce case in Perry County is the same judge who heard a recent Philly Court of Common Pleas judge case. The Philly judge filed a PI case when he was in private practice and received the defendant's office building as his fee while his client got $1,500.00. In that case the Honorable Charles B. Smith - after hearing the jury award nearly $200,000.00 in damages against the Philly judge in favor of his prior client - told the courtroom "I am shocked as most of you must be by the verdict". Smith previously said he didn't see how the Philly judge was enriched by his actions when he was a PI lawyer. See a pattern?
Rehkamp is now in real trouble. While he pled poverty to reduce his alimony obligation to his first wife, it turns out he was borrowing another $100,000.00 to buy a vacation home in Cape Coral, Florida with room for a boat dock and two boats. He put down $50,000.00 and failed to disclose the purchase despite wife requesting such information in discovery. Check out the Lee County Tax Assessors website for an aerial view.
Update to the Rehkamp case. Turns out his own divorce lawyer (Samuel L. Andes) was appearing in front of him as a judge in a case captioned Diaz-Flagg v. Flagg while Andes represented the judge in his own divorce. Pennsylvania's appellate court in late May 2010 (436 MDA 2009) determined their activities raised the appearance of impropriety and undermined the impartiality the public should expect from the judiciary and barred Rehkamp from hearing the case when Mrs. Diaz Flagg's appeal was successful and her case was remanded to the trial court. Can't wait to see how this plays out.
November 15, 2010 | Unregistered CommenterLOL at this
Hum..What's the opposite of "God Bless" the old boy - old judge network. Just like government, law lives to perpetuate it'self.
August 20, 2012 | Unregistered CommenterPeth

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