Woodland Hills New school board member faces charges

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A newly appointed Woodland Hills school director is awaiting trial on criminal charges, including aggravated assault, connected to an alleged attack on his pregnant, estranged wife.

Jeffrey Cobbs, 44, of Braddock was among three new board members appointed at the Dec. 19 reorganization meeting, according to board President Robert Tomasic.

Mr. Tomasic, who was among the six school directors who voted in favor of Mr. Cobbs, said he was unaware of the pending criminal charges and that he believes other board members also were unaware at the time of the vote. He said several board members spoke highly of Mr. Cobbs, a former Woodland Hills High School football player and a local disc jockey. Two board members voted against the appointment.

Mr. Cobbs is scheduled to go to trial April 23 on charges of aggravated assault, terroristic threats, false imprisonment and criminal mischief before Allegheny County Common Pleas Judge Anthony Mariani.

According to a police criminal complaint, the alleged assault took place Oct. 30, 2012, when Mr. Cobbs and his estranged wife, Sarah, got into an argument. Ms. Cobbs told police that Mr. Cobbs choked her, hit her in the head, pulled her by the hair and ordered her to leave the home “now or later in a body bag,” according to the complaint. The complaint also said that Mr. Cobbs broke the windshield of Ms. Cobb’s car with a rock.

At the time, Ms. Cobbs was eight months pregnant with Mr. Cobb’s child. Court documents indicate the couple have two other children.

Similar accusations are made in a petition for a protection-from-abuse order that Ms. Cobbs filed Nov. 2, 2012, and which was granted Nov. 15, 2012.

Mr. Cobbs declined comment and referred questions to his attorney Robert Mielnicki, who could not be reached.

Ms. Cobbs could not be reached for comment.

Mr. Tomasic said the board must consider Mr. Cobbs “innocent until proven guilty” and said he believed Mr. Cobbs cannot be removed from office unless he is convicted. Woodland Hills solicitor Donald Palmer could not be reached for comment.

Tim Eller, spokesman for the state Department of Education, cited the state law on public officials’ eligibility to serve upon conviction of criminal offenses:

“Article 2. Section 7 of the Pennsylvania constitution states, ‘No person hereafter convicted of embezzlement of public moneys, bribery, perjury or other infamous crime, shall be eligible to the General Assembly, or capable of holding office of trust or profit in this Commonwealth,” Mr. Eller wrote in an email. Infamous crimes generally refer to felonies or crimes involving fraud, false statements or moral turpitude, regardless of their grade, Mr. Eller said.

In addition, Mr. Eller cited the state school code, which calls for school board members to have “good moral character.”

School director Tara Reis, who voted against Mr. Cobb’s appointment, said 10 people applied for the three open seats, which became available because some of the winning candidates campaigned for both seats in their region and for at-large seats and won both. Of the 10, five, including Mr. Cobbs, were interviewed.

Ms. Reis said she asked at the meeting whether anyone had vetted the candidates specifically to see if they had any criminal charges against them. She said she was told that’s what the interview process had been for. She said she asked that question because Mr. Cobbs had been involved in an incident in 2006 while working as a disc jockey at Woodland Hills Junior High School when a fight broke out.

At the time, Mr. Cobbs was charged with aggravated assault, resisting arrest and disorderly conduct but found guilty of only disorderly conduct and sentenced to one year’s probation, according to online court records.

Ms. Reis said she and several other board members received an email from Sarah Cobbs on Dec. 20, the day after the vote, outlining Mr. Cobbs’ criminal record.

Ms. Reis said she has also received calls and emails from community members who are outraged at the appointment.

“They are just furious. Absolutely furious. The complaints range from the fact that he should not be representing our families and students to the fact that this is just one more thing that is going to ruin our property values,” Ms. Reis said.

Mary Niederberger: mniederberger@post-gazette.com; 412-263-1590.

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