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 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 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.
Linda M. Valentini, Psy.D.
Linda M. Valentini, Psy.D. is a senior Pennsylvania special education due process hearing officer who has presided over more than 2,500 special education disputes throughout Pennsylvania over the past twenty-four years. She is qualified as a certified hearing official through the National Association of Hearing Officials (NAHO). Dr. Valentini received her bachelor’s degree in psychology summa cum laude from LaSalle University and her master’s and doctoral degrees in clinical psychology from Hahnemann Medical College; in partial fulfillment of her doctoral requirements she studied for six months with Miss Anna Freud in London, England. A licensed psychologist in Pennsylvania, Dr. Valentini is also a Pennsylvania certified school psychologist and has received certification as a mediator. She has been a houseparent in a residential treatment facility for juvenile offenders, an assistant director of a private youth services agency, the executive director of a private children’s mental health agency, a private practitioner, a consultant in the area of child/adolescent physical and sexual abuse and behavioral health, and a frequent speaker in special education and administrative law training programs. Born in Baltimore, Maryland, she is a life-long resident of Philadelphia, and also lived in Italy for a year.
Hearing Officer Bios – (Español)