gavel

WHITE-COLLAR CRIME

Fired secretary is star witness at trial of ex-judge accused of operating business from chambers


A trial has begun that could cost a former Philadelphia Common Pleas Court judge his $6,000-a-month pension if the prosecution prevails.

The government says Willis Berry Jr. effectively stole from taxpayers by having his longtime secretary handle property management functions for his sideline real-estate business, while working in his judicial chambers.

But the defense is pointing the finger at the prosecution’s star witness. It contends that only after Willis fired his secretary, who he says took over $40,000 from him, did she retaliate by claiming to the state attorney general’s office that he was misusing his office, the Legal Intelligencer (sub. req.) reports.

“It’s a matter of retaliation against the good judge,” defense attorney Nino Tinari told the jury during opening statements. “There’s no doubt that hell has no fury like a woman scorned.”

In testimony Tuesday, former secretary Carolyn Fleming said she had done nothing wrong. She said she cooperated in the investigation of Willis only after the government came to her, the Philadelphia Inquirer reports.

Willis was elected to the bench in 1995 and retired several years ago.

A senior Montgomery County judge is presiding over the case.