Attorney Aims for Plea Deal in Mextorf DUI Case, Says Official 'Paid a High Price'
State College attorney Joseph Amendola, representing former local Superintendent Richard J. Mextorf, will attempt to reach a "reasonable" and "legitimate" plea agreement with Clinton County District Attorney Michael Salisbury, Amendola said Monday.
Mextorf, 48, of Port Matilda, is charged with DUI and related driving offenses in connection with a Nov. 18 incident in Clinton County. His blood-alcohol level was recorded at 0.316 percent -- more than three times the threshold for DUI in Pennsylvania -- after an 8 a.m. traffic stop that day.
The maximum punishment for such a first-time offense is six months in jail, Amendola said. Mextorf has already waived his preliminary hearing and his arraignment. For now, he is next due in court on March 7, when he may say whether he wants a jury trial -- if the process gets that far.
"He has suffered so much more than a typical person" who's charged with DUI, Amendola told StateCollege.com. While the average person caught for DUI faces little public attention and can retain his or her job, he said, Mextorf has "paid a high price."
"He's lost his job. He can't pay his bills. He has no source of income at the current time. His career is jeopardized," Amendola said.
He said Mextorf is "an upstanding citizen who obviously made a very, very serious mistake." The former superintendent, who resigned his State College Area School District position effective Dec. 2, has admitted his culpability in the case and has not consumed a single alcoholic drink since the DUI incident, Amendola said.
Mextorf also told a judge at a recent bail hearing that he would never drink again.
"To Dr. Mextorf's credit, he's said from the beginning: 'I want to make sure I take the proper steps to make sure (I) never repeat that behavior,'" Amendola said. " ... He has tried to explain to everybody and anybody how remorseful he is, how sorry he is, and how he has held himself more accountable than anybody else -- including the justice system -- could hold him."
Mextorf repeatedly acknowledges that his behavior could have resulted in tragedy, he went on.
Amendola said that Mextorf is not a chronic alcoholic by any stretch; rather, he said, Mextorf found himself facing a lot of pressure -- much of it self-imposed -- from his job as State College superintendent.
Mextorf began work in the position in July 2009, succeeding Patricia Best after her retirement. A Penn State alumnus, he came to State College after serving as superintendent in the Loyalsock Township School District.
"I think the pressure kind of surprised him -- coming from another school district where I don't think the parents typically are as involved as maybe they are in the State College area," Amendola said. " ... I think it got to a point where it overwhelmed him."
In the hours before he was pulled over for DUI, Mextorf had gone to visit a friend and, "unfortunately, drank way too much," Amendola said. He said Mextorf made another bad decision in trying to drive back to State College -- "ironically because he didn't want to miss work."
Mextorf has since gotten counseling to help him deal with stress, Amendola said.
But there's much more to Mextorf than what happened on Nov. 18, and that's what Amendola wants District Attorney Salisbury to see, he said.
He said Mextorf has "done so many positive things for the communities where he's lived and worked." Friends and other backers have shared an "outpouring of support" with Mextorf since Nov. 18, Amendola said.
He expects that more than 50 letters supporting Mextorf will be prepared for Salisbury's consideration in the coming weeks, he said. Amendola said he wants to make sure that Salisbury receives those and other materials underscoring Mextorf's positive contributions to society.
In the meantime, Amendola is receiving pre-trial discovery materials from Salisbury's office, which should help him and Mextorf decide exactly how to proceed with the case, Amendola said. He said his objective is to "discuss (with Salisbury) possible alternatives" in the court process and reach a "justifiable, legitimate resolution."
Mextorf would like to remain in Centre County, "but that remains to be seen -- where he can gain employment," Amendola said.
"I'm sure there's not an hour that goes by that he's not tortured by the situation he's put himself in, his family, the community, the school board ... the kids," Amendola said. " ... Fortunately, he's got a very good support network of people who believe in him, who believe -- as he does -- that this will never reoccur."