FacebookTwitterGoogle+RedditEmail

DA Challenges New Mumia Court Appeal

When Larry Krasner, Philadelphia’s new purportedly progressive district attorney, took office last January, he vowed to unflinchingly make the office’s goal “seeking justice,” instead of just seeking convictions, as a string of DAs going back to at least Ed Rendell had done.

Last week, faced with a decision calling for real courage, Krasner flinched.

In the wake of a Dec. 27 decision by Philadelphia Common Pleas Judge Leon Tucker ordering new hearings by the state’s supreme court on four appeals by Pennsylvania’s most famous prison inmate, journalist Mumia Abu-Jamal, Krasner had two options. He could let Judge Tucker’s finding stand that the denial of those appeals had been corrupted by the refusal of a former DA, Ron Castille, who had later become a supreme court judge and who refused to recuse himself. Alternatively, he could challenge Judge Tucker’s decision, and argue that it should be overturned.

Krasner, after discussions with his top aids, decided to appeal, meaning no automatic rearguing of Abu-Jamal’s four denied Supreme Court appeals.

Krasner’s decision itself was corrupted by the his own closeness to Castille, who as DA from 1986-91 oversaw that office’s legal battles against Abu-Jamal’s appeals of his conviction in the 1981 shooting death of Philadelphia Police Officer Daniel Faulkner. Krasner had brought invited Castille, who retired from the state’s supreme court in 2014, to help with transitioning the DA’s office when he first came in, advising the him on staff changes, including which hold-over assistant DAs to fire.

The same Castille who had thought it was perfectly okay to have overseen the legal fight by the Philadelphia DA’s office against Abu-Jamal’s appeal of his conviction and of his death penalty (the latter finally overturned on constitutional grounds by a federal appeals court in 2011) and then to sit on a review of those appeals as a member of the state supreme court, is turned out to be a trusted advisor to Krasner.

No surprise then that Krasner has now decided to oppose the decision by Judge Tucker which blasted Castille for his failure to recuse himself from the high court’s decision on four Post-Conviction Relief Act appeals by Abu-Jamal. In that decision, Judge Tucker wrote:

“…the claim of bias, prejudice, and the refusal of former Justice Castille to recuse himself from Petitioner’s PCRA appeals is worthy of consideration as true justice must be completely just without even a hint of partiality, lack of integrity or impropriety. Regardless of the underlying guilty verdict of the first degree murder charge, and regardless if the tribunal was trial or appellate, Petitioner is entitled to an unbiased tribunal, without even the appearance of impropriety.”

It should be noted that DA Krasner, a combative, dedicated and very prominent defense attorney in Philadelphia for decades, was surely aware that Castille, who served on the Pennsylvania Supreme Court for two decades, from 1994 to 2014, the last six years as Chief Justice, had campaigned for judge on his aggressive seeking of the death penalty as DA, and on his continued support as a top judge for stiff sentences, including death penalties.

It is nothing short of appalling that Krasner, who to date has been doing a good job of seeking justice in his new office — from eliminating the practice of prosecutors seeking cash bail that keeps poor people locked up for months or longer while awaiting trial, to avoiding seeking the death penalty even in egregious murder trials, and even overturning of a murder conviction — would whiff the first time he was confronted with a politically controversial case like that of Mumia Abu-Jamal.

The real mark of a courageous politician is not making the easy decisions that comport with her or his campaign promises, but sticking to principle when confronted with serious opposition. For DA Krasner, it was the case of Abu-Jamal, whose execution or death behind bars has been a cause célèbre for racists, right-wingers, the powerful Philadelphia Local of the Fraternal Order of Police and even for some parlor liberals.

I have no doubt that had Judge Tucker’s order involved the PCRA appeals of virtually any other convict serving time in a Pennsylvania prison, Krasner would have let that decision stand and the re-appeals be heard by a Castille-free state Supreme Court. He would have been willing to take the predictable heat from the FOP and the editorialists at the Philadelphia Inquirer.

But when it came to agreeing with Judge Tucker that Justice Castille’s sitting in judgement on Abu-Jamal’s appeals to the Supreme Court after having run the DA’s office when it was fighting those same appeals posed an unacceptable conflict of interest and a denial of justice, Krasner tossed principle out the window.

He either didn’t want to face the political heat or didn’t want to insult his friend Castille. Maybe both.

It’s a sad moment for what had appeared to be a promising new dawn for the long-corrupt Philadelphia DA’s office.

Abu-Jamal may yet get justice by seeking in higher state courts, both in Pennsylvania and at the federal level, to uphold Judge Tucker’s ruling. But Krasner, in demonstrating that he will cave on principle when pressed, has already demonstrated a weakness that his political enemies can now be expected to exploit.

More articles by:

Dave Lindorff is a founding member of ThisCantBeHappening!, an online newspaper collective, and is a contributor to Hopeless: Barack Obama and the Politics of Illusion (AK Press).

Weekend Edition
February 22, 2019
Friday - Sunday
Timothy M. Gill
Why is the Venezuelan Government Rejecting U.S. Food Supplies?
John Pilger
The War on Venezuela is Built on Lies
Andrew Levine
Ilhan Omar Owes No Apologies, Apologies Are Owed Her
Jeffrey St. Clair
That Magic Feeling: the Strange Mystique of Bernie Sanders
David Rosen
Will Venezuela Crisis Split Democrats?
Nick Pemberton
Donald Trump’s National Emergency Is The Exact Same As Barack Obama’s National Emergency
Paul Street
Buried Alive: The Story of Chicago Police State Racism
Rob Seimetz
Imagined Communities and Omitting Carbon Emissions: Shifting the Discussion On Climate Change
Ramzy Baroud
Russian Mediation: The Critical Messages of the Hamas-Fatah Talks in Moscow
Michael Welton
Dreaming Their Sweet Dreams: a Peace to End Peace
Robert Hunziker
Global Warming’s Monster Awakens
Huma Yasin
Chris Christie Spins a Story, Once Again
Ron Jacobs
Twenty-First Century Indian Wars
Robert Fantina
The U.S. and Venezuela: a Long History of Hostility
Lance Olsen
Climate and Money: a Tale of Two Accounts
Louis Proyect
El Chapo and the Path Taken
Fred Gardner
“She’s Willie Brown’s Protogé!” The Rise of Kamala Harris
Kollibri terre Sonnenblume
Biomass is Not “Green”: an Interview With Josh Schlossberg
John Feffer
Answering Attacks on the Green New Deal
W. T. Whitney
US Racism and Imperialism Fuel Turbulence in Haiti
Kim Ives
How Trump’s Attacks on Venezuela Sparked a Revolution in Haiti
Mike Ferner
What War Films Never Show You
Lawrence Wittner
Should the U.S. Government Abide by the International Law It Has Created and Claims to Uphold?
James Graham
A Slow Motion Striptease in France
Dave Lindorff
Could Sanders 2.0 Win It All, Getting the Democratic Nomination and Defeating Trump?
Jill Richardson
Take It From Me, Addiction Doesn’t Start at the Border
Yves Engler
Canada and the Venezuela Coup Attempt
Tracey L. Rogers
We Need a New Standard for When Politicians Should Step Down
Gary Leupp
The Sounds of Silence
Dan Bacher
Appeals Court Rejects Big Oil’s Lawsuit Against L.A. Youth Groups, City of Los Angeles
Robert Koehler
Are You White, Black or Human?
Ralph Nader
What are Torts? They’re Everywhere!
Cesar Chelala
The Blue Angel and JFK: One Night in Camelot
Sarah Schulz
Immigrants Aren’t the Emergency, Naked Capitalism Is
James Campbell
In the Arctic Refuge, a Life Force Hangs in the Balance
Matthew Stevenson
Pacific Odyssey: Corregidor’s Iconography of Empire
Jonah Raskin
The Muckraking Novelist Dashiell Hammett: A Red Literary Harvest
Kim C. Domenico
Revolutionary Art and the Redemption of the Local
Paul Buhle
Life and Crime in Blue Collar Rhode Island
Eugene Schulman
J’Accuse!
Nicky Reid
Zionists are the Most Precious Snowflakes
Jim Goodman
The Green New Deal Outlines the Change Society Needs
Thomas Knapp
Judicial Secrecy: Where Justice Goes to Die
February 21, 2019
Nick Pemberton
Israel, Venezuela and Nationalism In The Neoliberal Era
Chris Orlet
The Bill and Melinda Gates’ Fair Taxation Scaremongering Tour
FacebookTwitterGoogle+RedditEmail