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Wednesday, April 4, 2012

Councilman Helfrich at drug-use hearing



 ERIN JAMES The York Dispatch

Testifying under oath this morning, Michael Helfrich recalled the events of Jan. 22, 1991.
He got a call from a friend, who invited him to hang out and use drugs. Twenty years old at the time, Helfrich met up with the friend and another man he met for the first time that day. They used LSD.
By the next morning, the man - who'd provided the drugs - wanted to leave, Helfrich said. He'd expected a ride to the airport from Helfrich's friend, who'd been acting "oddly," setting money on fire and making wild predictions.
"He was claiming that his girlfriend was carrying the second coming of Jesus Christ," Helfrich testified.
The friend, recognizing he couldn't drive, offered to give his car to the man. That's when Helfrich said he
Michael Helfrich leaves the York County Judicial Center on Wednesday with former York City Council president Genevieve Ray. (Bil Bowden photo)

stepped in, offering to drive the man to the airport instead "so that I would protect my friend's interest in his vehicle." But when he walked outside, Helfrich said, he and the man were greeted by York City Police. Helfrich was arrested and charged with two felony drug charges and a misdemeanor charge for possession of marijuana.
Weeks later, Helfrich pleaded guilty.
The events of that day are at the center of a civil court hearing that started this morning and continues this afternoon. Helfrich is now a York City Councilman, having mounted a write-in campaign last year that ultimately garnered more than 1,000 votes and won him a seat on the council.
Helfrich, 42, is fighting to keep that seat.
Mayor Kim Bracey filed a petition in December asking the court to declare Helfrich ineligible for public office. The city's argument is based on a prohibitive phrase in the Pennsylvania constitution and the many years of case law that have interpreted it.
The Pennsylvania constitution bans from elected positions anyone convicted of "embezzlement of public moneys, bribery, perjury or other infamous crime." The state Supreme Court has ruled that felonies are "infamous."
Helfrich and his attorneys are seeking to expose the gray in an issue that some see as black and white.
Called to the stand this morning as an expert witness, a Widener University School of Law professor testified about the evolution of the "infamous crime" phrase.
Wesley Oliver said the phrase first appeared in Pennsylvania's constitution in 1790. The framers would have considered infamous crimes to be those "which you just sort of know are bad," like rape, robbery and murder, he said. At the time, Oliver said, these were "common-law" crimes.
Applying the original meaning of "infamous crime," Helfrich's crime does not qualify, Oliver said.

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