December 11, 2018
Nine weeks ago, a 38-year-old Montgomery County man was told that his bail would be revoked if he continued harassing the mixed-race family living across the street in a bucolic Schwenksville subdivision. The family claims a six-year trend of such harassment.
The threat of bail revocation came at the end of a preliminary hearing in October that saw Matthew Rutkowski saddled with felony ethnic-intimidation and other charges stemming from complaints filed by Pam and Howard Margolis, who live across the street from him.
If the Margolis family thought things would calm down before the case reached trial, though, it would seem they were sorely mistaken.
They maintain that in the weeks since that preliminary hearing, Rutkowski has called the nearest State Police barracks, claiming they were harassing him and, among other things, followed Howard out of the development in his white pick-up truck on several occasions.
On that October day, he was ordered to stay away from the couple or Deputy District Attorney Samantha Cauffman would seek to have his bail revoked. Upon being told that those actions might rise to the level of summary offenses, Cauffman filed a motion to revoke bail, which would have seen Rutkowski taken into custody.
But after a testy, 45-minute hearing before Common Pleas Judge Risa Vetri Ferman – the former county district attorney – the defendant was free to leave the courthouse on Tuesday afternoon.
"It's not exactly what I was hoping for, but I’ll take what I can get and hope that at the next hearing, we will see real action," said Pam Margolis, in reference to the upcoming trial.
Cauffman shared that Ferman bolstered the stay-away order, which now holds that Rutkowski cannot follow the Margolis' whether on foot or in car, and has to avoid both "direct and indirect" contact with the couple and their two children.
"(Howard) testified about four different incidents where the defendant, in their minds, was trying to harass, intimidate, or make him feel uncomfortable despite the no-contact order on his bail," Cauffman said. "I asked the court to address the bail conditions so the victims' feel safer in the time leading up to trial.
"It's great for now, but I'm wondering what happens after trial, if we'll be right back to where we were." – Howard Margolis
"I'm grateful to the judge for acknowledging that this is a serious situation. While the decision wasn't made to revoke his bail, it was enough to make the conditions stricter."
Howard Margolis was the lone witness in the case. He admitted that he got a little bit "testy" when Rutkowski's attorney, Scott McIntosh, "tried to draw some sort of equivalence between Rutkowski and my behavior."
"I lost patience with that fairly quickly," said Margolis, who was told by the judge to confine his responses to answering questions that were asked. "[Rutkowski] was told there is no following me, Pam or the kids, or if he encounters us in any situation, he needs to walk, drive or otherwise remove himself from the situation.
"It's the best we could hope for," Margolis said. "We just want it to stop. It's great for now, but I'm wondering what happens after trial, if we'll be right back to where we were."
Calls and an email to McIntosh seeking comment were not returned Tuesday night or Wednesday morning.
Detailed in an August story on PhillyVoice, the alleged harassment left the Margolis family openly pondering whether to leave the quaint, Fox Heath subdivision they've called home for years.
The couple claims Rutkowski has harassed them – and their two grown children – with racist, homophobic and anti-Semitic slurs and actions as far back as 2012. The charges in the pending matter related to Tuesday’s hearing cover alleged confrontations since 2017.
At the October hearing, Rutkowski was ordered to stand trial on felony ethnic intimidation and other related charges. If convicted, he could face up to 12 years in prison.
After taking their ordeal public, the family has received support from neighbors and strangers alike.
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