Judge seen without mask orders arrest of 88-year-old who skipped court because of coronavirus

Chester County sheriffs found the Philadelphia woman too frail to detain.

Doctor's note that was dismissed by the judge; Chester County Courthouse

Doctor's note that was dismissed by the judge; Chester County Courthouse

Courtesy Frank Turner; Wikimedia Commons
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Chester County sheriff’s deputies swept into Philadelphia on Tuesday to arrest an 88-year-old woman who missed a court appearance due to coronavirus symptoms. Chester Court of Common Pleas Judge William P. Mahon, who signed the bench warrant, has not been wearing a mask in his courtroom, according to an attorney for the woman.

Court records show Josephine Tripodi was scheduled to appear with her daughter, Gerri Carr, 62, for a contempt hearing in a civil case last Friday.

The mother and daughter have been embroiled in a drawn-out real estate dispute with officials in North Coventry township, near Pottstown, over the fate of a dilapidated apartment building owned by the family. Legal proceedings date back to 2007 when the county first cited the property for falling into disrepair.

The duo’s attorney, Frank Turner, filed a motion last Thursday to postpone the hearing after his clients began experiencing symptoms of the coronavirus.

“They both had a fever and chest congestion…and they were quarantining themselves,” Turner said.

Turner also alleged that Judge Mahon was the only person in his courtroom not wearing a mask on a recent visit — despite protocols requiring them at all times in the courthouse.

“It should be noted that all the approximately fifteen (15) to twenty (20) attendees of the August 7 hearing in Courtroom 4 of the Chester County Justice Center wore masks and/or face coverings … with the exception the Honorable Judge Mahon,” the attorney wrote in a court filing Wednesday.

At least one other Court of Common Pleas judge in the Philly region is facing criticism for flouting mask guidelines as the pandemic continues to spread in the U.S. Mahon’s office declined to comment on the judge’s mask-wearing practices in court.

Mother Tripodi and daughter Carr produced a doctor’s note over the weekend asking the court to excuse them due to “recent illness.”

Mahon found the note to be insufficient, according to court records, and issued a bench warrant on Monday to detain the two women.

When the suburban sheriff’s deputies arrived at Tripodi’s South Broad Street home the next morning, they found the octogenarian too frail to detain.

“Deputies de-escalated the incident utilizing their empathy and discretion,” said Rebecca Brain, a spokesperson for the Chester County Commissioners’ Office. The sheriffs then contacted Judge Mahon, who ultimately agreed with their decision not to detain Tripodi.

Tripodi has appeared before Mahon in court on several previous occasions, Turner said, so the judge should have been aware of her physical condition.

“From one perspective I can understand the judge’s frustration — the case has been going on since 2007,” Turner said. However, “my clients are still 88 and 62,” putting them at higher risk for severe outcomes from the potentially fatal virus.

The long-vacant Kline Place Apartments complex in North Coventry township, near Pottstown.

The long-vacant Kline Place Apartments complex in North Coventry township, near Pottstown.

Judge: 13-year-old case has ‘no resolution in sight’

Judge Mahon conceded to allow 88-year-old Tripodi to stay home, but then ordered the daughter Carr to appear in court on Wednesday, the day after the sheriff’s deputies visited her mother’s South Philly home.

Attorney Turner said he has not been able to reach the daughter. He is seeking to move the hearings in the case to all-virtual, part of an emergency motion for relief filed Wednesday morning in Commonwealth Court.

While Philadelphia’s Common Pleas Court is still not conducting in-person hearings in civil cases, Chester County reopened its courthouse back in early June.

Court records indicate judges have long been frustrated with the 13-year-old case.

The Tripodi family is the owner of the long-shuttered Kline Place Apartments in North Coventry township. Tripodi’s late husband, a contractor, built the property, passing it on to his family more than two decades ago. Local officials first cited Tripodi for numerous code violations in 2007, and attempted to push the property to sale two years later.

Tripodi and her daughter, who is a co-defendant in the township’s lawsuit, have fought officials at every turn. In 2009, the Pottstown Mercury reported numerous attorneys left the Tripodi case, saying the clients refused their advice. Tripodi and Carr have been through eight attorneys, records indicate. They also represented themselves pro se at several points, including in one ruling they ultimately lost in the Pennsylvania Supreme Court.

Tripodi and Carr maintain the county is trying to seize their family’s property. According to Turner, they claim they haven’t had access to the building to address repair needs since the township changed the locks to the property.

The saga over Kline Place Apartments led county officials to adopt a new rental policy in Pottstown. Among many stipulations: the rules require landlords who live more than 10 miles from their property to assign a nearby caretaker.

Mahon, who inherited the case from another judge, described it as “a farce.”

“It seems to me that after 12 years of litigation in this…there is no resolution in sight,” Mahon said in July of last year. “There is no desire by the Tripodis to comply with the prior orders of the court.”

The hearing that led to last week’s bench warrant — and attempt to arrest the 88-year-old — was meant to impose sanctions stemming from a contempt ruling.

Last year, the court ordered Tripodi and Carr to pay $500,000 in fees to Coventry Township to remediate mold and pay other costs associated with the property. The mother and daughter claimed financial hardship, but would not disclose their financial records to the courts, thus leading to the contempt judgement.

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