A felony conviction ended Lewis B. Palmer’s law-enforcement career, but his soap-operatic legal entanglements disappeared when he was ordered to pay a $500 fine for wiretapping his ex-girlfriend, former Municipal Court Judge Leslie Fleisher.
“I’m really happy. What else could I be?” said Palmer, 49, who avoided a nine-month sentence after beating aggravated-assault charges stemming from a 2009 confrontation in Fleisher’s Society Hill home. His happiness came with a price. “I would consider myself unemployable.”
Yesterday’s sentencing hearing before Judge Charles B. Smith, a Chester County judge who presided over the case because of Fleisher’s ties to a local court from which she resigned amid judicial-temperament complaints, matched the October trial’s dramatics.
When debating whether random drug testing was called for, prosecutor Bill Davis played a 2009 voicemail in which the fallen officer tells the fallen judge he wanted “to get back the stuff you took out of my luggage. That would be the heroin.”
Neither Palmer, who grew a beard since his trial, nor his attorney A. Charles Peruto Jr. would answer questions about what that message meant because Peruto said a lawsuit would ensue. Peruto also loudly challenged anyone in the courtroom to testify that Palmer used drugs. Fleisher leaned forward in her seat, but didn’t stand.
In a one-minute victim-impact statement, she said it was a “great heartache to go through this entire experience.” She asked for a stay-away order as well. As Fleisher left, flanked by her parents, she declined further comment after saying, “I just want to take my family home.”
Davis, a deputy state attorney general who handled the case because Palmer worked as District Attorney’s office detective, said the “absolutely ridiculous sentence” could be appealed.
“It sends an inappropriate message that you can break the law and suffer no consequences,” he said. “He should be held to a higher standard. He’s shown no remorse, not even about how he makes other police officers look bad.”
Peruto responded that the wiretapping offense is “not even illegal in New Jersey or Ohio.” He said, “They got their pound of flesh today.”
Asked what his worst-case scenario entering the courtroom was, Palmer, who hadn’t spoken publicly about the case until yesterday, said, “Having to come back here in 30 days because the case wasn’t over. This is enough. It’s been enough for me.”
Before levying the sentence, Smith noted recent stories about Philadelphia police officers using arbitration to return to work despite questionable service records.
“I’d much rather have this guy back out on the streets than some of those I read about,” he noted.
At the October trial, Palmer was charged with allegedly choking Fleisher for several seconds and slamming her against a wall. Fleisher testified that the fight started when she asked Palmer to feed her cat, but he refused to because he was watching football.
He claimed self-defense, and the jury cleared him of the assault charges. They found him guilty of wiretapping for putting Fleisher on speakerphone and playing their conversation while his boss’ voicemail recorded. Fleisher is heard taunting Palmer, who pleads with her to help him get his job back a few days after the incident.
After the October verdict, Fleisher’s personal attorney and friend, Samuel Stretton, said, “I’m appalled by how they treated a victim of domestic violence.”