The Value of a Cooley Education -
Cooley Alumni Weigh In:
Luzerne County PA:
Cooley’s Home Away from Home
By: Richard Shermanski ( John Marshall, 2013)
With Contributions from: Judge William Amesbury and District Attorney Stephanie Salavantis
During my externship in Luzerne County Pennsylvania in January 2013 I had the opportunity to work with and learn from two Thomas M. Cooley Law School graduates who have made quite a name for themselves in my home county. Although Luzerne is home to over 30 Cooley Graduates, these two individuals, William (Bill) Amesbury and Stephanie Salavantis, have both achieved a level of great success by being elected to the Court of Common Pleas and District Attorney respectively. I approached the both of them with the opportunity to help me write an article for the new digital Pillar and both were more than happy to help.
Their stories, memories of Cooley and their professional development are chronicled as follows:
During the last four years Cooley Law School graduates have advanced the school’s reputation by winning county-wide elections. First, in 2002 William H. Amesbury was elected as Magisterial District Judge for Court 11-1-01 (Wilkes-Barre, Pa.). In 2007 he won reelection and in 2009 he was elected to the Court of Common Pleas for the 11th Judicial District for a term of 10 years and was installed on January 4, 2010.
One of the new judges who has pledged to restore confidence and trust in Luzerne County’s Judiciary, William H. Amesbury (Grant Class, 1987) has faced and continues to deal with the fall-out (for the last four years) from the “Kids for Cash” scandal. As the reader may be aware, Luzerne County was rocked with one of the worst judicial scandals that the Commonwealth of Pennsylvania has ever experienced. Stated simply, two Common Pleas judges, one of which was the President Judge who presided over juvenile cases, were brought up on various charges in Federal Court. The cases have been tried, the judges pled or were convicted and subsequently sentenced. However, the stain on the County has not been cleansed nor will it be for decades.
Amesbury was a Magisterial District Judge from 2002-2009. Dealing with a traditional caseload, he developed intervention or therapy programs for juveniles charged with either delinquency or dependency. By jurisdiction, a Magistrate does not have the authority to incarcerate or place a minor in a structured supervised setting.
In terms of treating minors, Amesbury along with local agencies developed five (5) categories of children with specific or overlapping problems that needed treatment, not placement. Readers with a therapeutic and/or educational background will recognize the following classifications which include: (1) bullying; (2) social promotions; (3) children with well-defined emotional problems such as childhood schizophrenia, bi-polar disorder, mood disorders or anxiety disorder; (4) Asperger Syndrome, Attention-Deficit/Hyperactivity Disorders, Impulsive Behavior Disorder; and (5) the largest group – ineffective parenting.
In 2009, Luzerne County’s Amesbury was one of two judges elected to the Court of Common Pleas from a list of seventeen candidates that entered the primary election. During the primary, he was fortunate enough to win nominations on both the Democratic and Republican tickets. In November, 2009, he was top vote getter and in January, 2010 he became a member of the Court of Common Pleas.
During the last 3+ years, Amesbury has been assigned primarily to the Civil Division with his Criminal assignment limited to homicides or cases involving competency and pleas for those individuals who suffer from well-defined emotional disorders but do not satisfy the Pennsylvania version of the McNaughton Rule.
Since 2012, Amesbury has been the Supervising Judge for Luzerne County Treatment Courts consisting of a Drug/Alcohol Treatment Program, a Mental Health Treatment Team and a Veteran’s Court. Amesbury’s prior experience as a secondary education teacher, psychiatric social worker with eleven years at three separate Pennsylvania in-patient hospitals, including a forensic unit and as Clinical Supervisor for Crisis Intervention which dealt with HM, D/A, Children & Youth, and Bureau of Aging makes him the ideal person to supervise these programs. In fact on February 13, 2013 the Honorable Seamus P. McCaffery, Associate Justice, Pennsylvania Supreme Court, recognized the Luzerne County Treatment Court as the 5th County Court to successfully complete the arduous accreditation process. The Treatment Team is justifiably proud of this major accomplishment.
Amesbury has also coached T-Ball, Minor League, Little League, Teener League and American Legion Baseball, Girls’ Softball and CYC Basketball for over thirty (30) years.
Amesbury’s two most favorite memories from Cooley were winning the intramural softball championship in 1987 while playing with such stalwarts as Phil Prygoski, R. Joseph Kimble, Tom Rombach, Mike Sheridan, Dick Bachelder (the real “MVP”), Brian Lange, John Viggiani, Ed Waters, Mike Cotter, Mark Plawecki and Peter O’Donnell. Bill still has his blue shirt which identified “LAW” (Last of the Almost Winners) as champs.
Bill will never forget the study groups, which changed over the years but included Ed Waters, Ann Waters, Therese “T” Cross, Kathy Gaydos, Lisa Traubado, Charles “Chip” Kleinbrook, “Mo” Burns, Joy Fossel, Mickey Castagne and Doug Wohl.
As a Judge, Bill has provided Externships to Cooley students over the last three years and this includes 3rd year students such as Michael Sharkey and, at present, Richard Shermanski.
Bill and his wife, Karen have two children that are following in Dad’s footsteps. Daughter Elizabeth graduated with Higher Distinction from the Pennsylvania State University in May, 2012. Liz was awarded an academic scholarship to the James Beasley School of Law, Temple University. Liz reported that the first term is just as terrifying as it was in 1984. His son, Will plans to enter the Pennsylvania State University at State College in September, 2013.
Bill would be remiss if he didn’t thank Cooley, its administration, faculty, financial advisors, and library staff. Most of all, he will always remember the men and women he was fortunate enough to meet during his three years at Cooley. From 1984-1987 collectively those students were Cooley. Today we have moved forward professionally and have garnered a certain amount of status, prestige and wealth because of the opportunity afforded to us by Cooley.
In 2012 a more recent graduate, Stefanie Salavantis, pulled off a major upset when she defeated a two-term incumbent District Attorney. Stefanie was installed as Luzerne County District Attorney in January, 2012 for a term of 4 years. I asked the District Attorney to write about her experience at Cooley and her election in her own words;
“I always wanted to be an attorney, but never saw myself in the political arena. After graduating from Thomas M. Cooley Law School, I made the decision to return home to Luzerne County where my closest family and friends resided. I began my profession by opening my own practice and working part-time as an insurance defense attorney for one of the nation’s leading insurance carriers. I had no intention of running for office; however, I became outraged by what was occurring in the small town where I grew up – the political corruption of local politician. Luzerne County was reported by national news as one of, if not the most corrupt town in the entire nation. Reporters from all national broadcasting stations were reporting how the Luzerne County Common Pleas Judges, one being the President Judge, violated the constitutional rights of juveniles in the criminal system and now known throughout the world as the “Kids for Cash” scandal.
I was outraged by these headlines, but I was even more upset by the fact that not one Republican in all of Luzerne County was running against the incumbent District Attorney who was a supervisor in the office when these juveniles’ rights were being violated. Everything changed when I realized the filing deadline passed and no one had submitted a Petition to run against the incumbent District Attorney.
I knew that in order for Luzerne County to have a fresh, new beginning, the incumbent had to be unseated. I spoke to my family and closest colleagues to ask for their support and what I received was unfathomable.
In May of 2011, a week before the primary election, I launched my write-in campaign. No one believed I would be able to pull it off. People were even saying they felt sorry for me because I was trying to accomplish something that was nearly impossible. But I did it! I received well over the number of write-ins needed to be on the general ballot from both Republicans and Democrats throughout Luzerne County.
That was just the beginning. From June to October, I knocked on hundreds upon hundreds of doors and expressed the change I wanted to see in our County. The odds were against me, but I had enough of the ‘good ol’ boys’ network. I was eager to show that there are bright, young, energetic individuals throughout the area that want to make a difference; the old way of doing the job was not working anymore and what we needed were fresh, new ideas.
Despite the disadvantage I faced with registrants, the strong political name of the incumbent and her years of prosecutorial experience and receiving no support by the local newspapers and media outlets, I won. It is a night I can hardly remember but will never be forgotten.
I owe a lot of my success to Thomas M. Cooley Law School. It was instilled in me to be the best and most ethical attorney I could be. It taught me the practical side of law, not just theory, and its education helped prepare me to pass the bar and step into the courtroom the next day. And, the best part was that it provided scholarships to help keep me from drowning in debt after graduation.
Attending Cooley was the best decision I could have ever made. Some of the people I met at Cooley will never be forgotten no matter the distance between us. We grew up together and learned what life, friendship and studying really meant. I will never forget the long nights in the library, the daily lunches at Deckers where we would dine with our professors, the stress relief at the YMCA between classes and the celebratory parties we would throw when we finished our last exam.
It was sad to leave the many friends I made from all over the world; however, they will always remain my extended family, and I know just as well as they know, we will always remain connected because of Cooley.”
Although my externship is over and Graduation has come and gone, I too have decided to stay in Luzerne County as well. Like Judge Amesbury and DA Salavantis, this County is my home and I wish to help rebuild its once grand reputation.