By Evamarie Socha
The Daily Item
LEWISBURG — Seven women and five men were chosen Monday as the jury for suspended Hartleton Police Chief Donald “Larry” Zerbe’s trial over an alleged scheme that diverted more than $5,000 in speeding fines to a local playground fund.
The Union County Court jury will listen to a three-day trial President Judge Michael Sholley has scheduled for Dec. 2-4.
Zerbe, 68, of Laurelton, faces three third-degree felony counts — two of theft and one of conspiracy — and two misdemeanor charges of obstruction and official oppression in the case.
Two alternate jurors, both women, also were chosen for the trial. All were winnowed from among 30 potential jurors — themselves chosen from about 200 candidates — by Assistant District Attorney Jeffrey Crossland and Zerbe’s attorney, Hank Clark, of Pottsville.
It took roughly two hours to choose the jurors, about a dozen of whom were ruled out for service following questions by Crossland and Clark, highlighting somewhat the case’s sensitive nature.
For instance, Crossland laid out the basic premise of the case: From January 2008 to November 2012, Zerbe allegedly collected $5,024 in traffic fines, giving the money to the borough secretary and never submitting them to the district judge or the commonwealth as is his “duly sworn duty” as a law officer. When Crossland asked if anyone felt they couldn’t follow this in reaching a verdict, seven potential jurors said they could not.
While instructing the jury not to read media accounts or discuss the trial, “don’t even say you’re a juror,” Sholley advised. “People, especially those from the west end of the county, are going to want to say something to you.”
Jurors also were told to contact the court immediately if they were harassed in any way.
Public support for Zerbe has been strong, with many contending he did nothing wrong and was looking out for the borough’s best interests. Zerbe, who had been Hartleton police chief for more than 30 years, was suspended from his duties in May after he was charged in April.
In questioning potential jurors, Clark called this an “odd case” in that both sides will feature testimony from police officers, including Zerbe himself. “More than ever, it’s imperative on you to weigh the credibility of people and the words from their mouths, not the badges on their chests,” he said, asking if this was a problem for the remaining 30 candidates; none responded that it was.
Dressed in a suit and with Clark at his side, Zerbe said he was doing “OK” and appeared calm through Monday’s proceedings.
Clark listed potential defense witnesses, including Zerbe, Hartleton Mayor James Dorman, borough solicitor Mark Lemon and District Judge Jeffrey Mensch, among others.
Crossland listed potential prosecution witnesses, including trooper Shawn Kofluk of the state police criminal investigation division, the lead investigator; Hartleton police officer Matt Trapane; James Anderson, of State College, and Jaime Carpenter, of Spring Mills, both whom allegedly were offered the “fines for playground” option for their respective traffic violations.