Suburban's ex-superintendent to avoid conviction
Prosecutors will recommend that ex-York Suburban School District Superintendent Shelly Merkle be accepted into a court diversionary program that would allow her to avoid conviction on her vandalism charges.
Michele A. Merkle is scheduled to appear in York County Court on Tuesday, Feb. 27, where a common pleas judge will have the final decision as to whether Merkle is accepted into the Accelerated Rehabilitative Disposition (ARD) program, according to court records.
Merkle, 55, of the 1900 block of Vicki Drive in Spring Garden Township, is charged with two counts of criminal mischief for allegedly vandalizing two vehicles owned, or at least used, by her former assistant superintendent, Patricia Maloney.
Maloney's attorney, Ed Paskey, has said that was part of a "pattern of vandalism and professional intimidation" against Maloney going back to April 2017.
'A gift': On Friday, Feb. 16, he told The York Dispatch that Maloney is in agreement with Merkle being placed in the ARD program.
"ARD is the legal equivalent to receiving a gift," Paskey said. "I sincerely hope that she takes this opportunity quite seriously."
Defendants seeking admittance to ARD must first be approved by the York County District Attorney's Office, after which a York County common pleas judge grants final acceptance. Defendants generally don't have to admit guilt to get in the ARD program.
But in Merkle's case, one of two special conditions basically ensures she admits guilt.
Kyle King, spokesman for the DA's office, said that for her Feb. 27 hearing, Merkle must bring $3,362.64 in restitution for Maloney, and she also must submit a letter of apology.
"As long as those two things are done on the 27th, then we'll follow through with our recommendation (for ARD)," King said.
Merkle also will have other conditions by which she must abide, he said, but declined to elaborate until Feb. 27.
King said ARD is appropriate for Merkle because she and her case meet the criteria. ARD requirements include being a first-time nonviolent offender.
Merkle's defense attorney, Jeff Marshall, said his client met all the criteria for the diversionary program. He declined comment about the specifics of the allegations.
The allegations: Charging documents filed Nov. 28 allege she scratched the paint on Maloney's red Volvo sedan and white Jeep Grand Cherokee.
Merkle also put screws next to both vehicles' tires, according to charging documents, which state she admitted to damaging both vehicles in a Nov. 22 interview with York County detectives.
Maloney parked her Jeep in the high school lot on Hollywood Drive on Sept. 11, then left about 5:15 p.m. to drive home. Once at home, Maloney discovered a screw in one of the Jeep's tires, documents state.
She drove her red Volvo back to school property to attend a meeting at 6:30 p.m. the same evening, according to documents. The York Suburban school board had a committee meeting that night.
About 9:15 p.m., Maloney walked back to the Volvo and found a screw placed next to one of its tires and also noticed someone had made numerous scratches on the trunk area and side panel of the Volvo, documents state.
Damage to the Volvo is estimated at $1,700, according to charging documents.
More damage alleged: Maloney later found scratches on her Jeep in addition to a screw in its tire, according to documents, which state total damage to the Jeep is estimated at $1,993.
"In the following days, Patricia Maloney advised that she was supplied with surveillance video from the York Suburban School District," charging documents state.
The video shows Merkle damaging both vehicles Sept. 11, documents allege.
Spring Garden Township Police and York Suburban School District officials have repeatedly declined comment about the criminal investigation against Merkle, which appears to have begun Sept. 11.
King has said investigators can't discuss the motive behind Merkle's alleged actions.
He said county detectives investigated after Spring Garden Township Police asked the district attorney's office to take over the investigation because of a conflict of interest.
Leave of absence: On Sept. 14, Merkle began what district officials later described as a medical leave of absence, although that information was not revealed until more than a week later.
During that week, the district's top two administrative posts were vacant, as Maloney's previously announced retirement took effect Sept. 15.
Corinne Mason, the district's director of finance and Right-to-Know Law officer, confirmed Merkle's absence on Sept. 22, saying she (Mason) would be the point of contact for administrators until an interim superintendent was appointed.
Emails between York Suburban School District officials, obtained by The York Dispatch, appear to show a coordinated effort to clamp down on information about Merkle's sudden departure.
'NOTHING goes out': On Sept. 14, the same day Merkle began what was called a medical leave of absence, Mason sent an email to school board President Lynne Leopold-Sharp and other board members, telling them not to say anything about the matter to other district staffers.
"There has been the question raised (of) what goes out to the staff," Mason wrote. "NOTHING goes out to the staff at this time. If you are asked anything regarding Dr. Merkle, 'Dr. Merkle is out on medical leave.'"
On Sept. 25, Merkle, who was making $186,000 a year, submitted a letter of resignation, which the board unanimously accepted that night at its regular board meeting.
— Reach Liz Evans Scolforo at firstname.lastname@example.org or on Twitter at @LizScolforoYD.