Hearing Office Bios
ODR employs various individuals throughout the Commonwealth of Pennsylvania to provide services as a Special Education Hearing Officer. The Stakeholder Council interviews and makes recommendations as to selection of hearing officers. Individuals are chosen based upon their academic achievement, background in special education and law, professional experience and writing abilities. In addition, ODR contracts with one hearing officer who handles cases when Central Susquehanna Intermediate Unit is a party in the due process matter, or when one of the LEAs within the Central Susquehanna Intermediate Unit is a party.
Attorney Brian Jason Ford
Attorney Brian Jason Ford received a B.A. from Franklin & Marshall College and a J.D. from Penn State Law (Dickinson). While at Penn State, working as a research assistant, Attorney Ford studied ODR’s mediation system while completing a state-by-state analysis of special education dispute resolution systems. Attorney Ford also holds a certificate in advocacy and dispute resolution from Penn State and received the CALI award for excellent achievement in the study of mediation. After law school, Attorney Ford practiced special education law in Pennsylvania and New Jersey for six years, representing both families and educational agencies at various points in his career. In 2010, he was named a Pennsylvania Super Lawyers Rising Star. He left the private practice of law the same year to become a Hearing Officer. In 2014, Attorney Ford became a Certified Hearing Official by the National Association of Hearing Officials.
Attorney James Gerl
Attorney James Gerl has an undergraduate degree with departmental distinction in political science from the University of Illinois (Urbana), a Master’s Degree in Public Policy Analysis (Political Science) from the University of Illinois (Chicago) and a Juris Doctor from the University of San Francisco. He previously served as a due process hearing officer and mediator for West Virginia for twenty-nine years. He has also served as an IDEA Hearing officer and mediator for the District of Columbia, and he has been a special education hearing officer for Utah; South Dakota; a portion of Pennsylvania; Delaware (panel chair) and the U. S. Virgin Islands (conflict case). Attorney Gerl has served as a special education state complaint investigator for state education agencies in New Mexico and Kentucky. He has been a frequent speaker and lecturer on various aspects of special education and law. He has attended the Administrative Law: Fair Hearing course at the National Judicial College, and he is a certified hearing official by the National Association of Hearing Officials.
Attorney Charlie Jelley
Attorney Charlie Jelley received his undergraduate and master degree from Slippery Rock State University. Attorney Jelley received his first law degree from Duquesne Law School, and received his second law degree, an LL.M. in Health Law, from the University of Loyola School of Law, Institute for Health Law in Chicago, Illinois. From 1980–1991, Attorney Jelley worked for Westmoreland County ARC as a lay advocate, then as the Director of Educational and Legislative Advocacy, and then for a short period of time after graduating from law school as the Executive Director. Attorney Jelley was the co-editor of the Health Law Institute’s first health law journal, The Annuals of Health Law. In 1991, Attorney Jelley’s LLM thesis focused on the application of the anti-discrimination provision in Section 504, the Americans with Disabilities Act and the Employee Retirement Income Security Action (ERISA) as applied to persons with disabilities accessing health insurance. After graduating from Loyola, Attorney Jelley worked as a consultant to the Chiropractic Legal Defense Fund in Englewood Colorado. In April 1993, Attorney Jelley joined the Law Office of Margaret Tremba and resumed his school law practice in Westmoreland County. Attorney Jelley’s practice focused on children’s issues, school law, juvenile justice, children and youth services, health law, disability law, medical assistance issues, community services, estate planning for families of persons with disabilities, civil rights litigation, ERISA litigation and legislative/policy analyses for persons with disabilities. Attorney Jelley served as the solicitor for the Parent Education Network, a Pennsylvania Parent Training initiative. Attorney Jelley is the past co-chairman of the Pennsylvania Bar Association Exceptional Children’s Committee. He is a past member of the Westmoreland County Academy of Trial Lawyers and the Ned Nakles Inns of Court.
Attorney Michael (Jake) McElligott
Attorney Michael J. (Jake) McElligott has been helping school districts and the parents of special needs children resolve disputes since 1994, first as a member, and then co-chair, of the Pennsylvania Special Education Appeals Panel and now as a hearing officer. Attorney McElligott is a certified hearing official through the National Association of Hearing Officials. He is also trained in special education mediation. For many years, Attorney McElligott was an administrator at Duquesne University School of Education. He holds a bachelor’s degree from Penn State University and a law degree from the University of Pittsburgh, a master’s degree in education from Duquesne University, where he also engaged in doctoral studies in educational leadership. Attorney McElligott is certified by the Pennsylvania Department of Education in secondary English and secondary social studies. He has taught social studies in public and private high schools, as well as a wide array of university courses, including school law. As a presenter, he has made numerous presentations on special education law and special education dispute resolution at local, regional, and national conferences. As an author, he has published book chapters on school counseling and on school law.
Attorney Cathy A. Skidmore
Attorney Cathy A. Skidmore has been active in the field of special education dispute resolution in Pennsylvania since 1994, in both formal and alternative dispute resolution processes. She earned her undergraduate degree in Special and Elementary Education from Slippery Rock University, her Juris Doctor from Duquesne University, and her Master of Education in a program of general special education from the University of Pittsburgh. Attorney Skidmore previously served for fourteen years as an appellate due process hearing officer in Pennsylvania, including seven years as a panel chairperson. She was also trained in basic and special education mediation and has been involved in collaborative dispute resolution as a special education mediator and facilitator in Pennsylvania. Attorney Skidmore has experience in private law practice and also formerly served as as an adjunct professor of special education as well as a judicial law clerk. She has been a frequent speaker and lecturer on various aspects of special education and disability law, and has co-authored several articles related to due process. Attorney Skidmore remains active in numerous special education and legal professional organizations and is a certified hearing official by the National Association of Hearing Officials.