[Pnews] Philly DA Office Must Provide All Records of Top Judge’s Role as DA in Opposing Mumia Abu Jamal Appeal

Prisoner News ppnews at freedomarchives.org
Mon May 8 11:28:50 EDT 2017


  Philly DA Office Must Provide All Records of Top Judge’s Role as DA in
  Opposing Mumia Appeal

by:  Linn Washington and Dave Lindorff - May 6, 2017

A Philadelphia judge has issued a stunningly powerful order requiring 
the city’s District Attorney’s Office to locate and release all 
documents related to the involvement of a former top prosecutor in the 
most contentious murder case in Philadelphia’s history. Because that 
former DA, Ronald Castille later became- a state supreme court justice 
and ultimately chief justice, the order could shine a light onto the 
dark legacy of ethics shredding misconduct by members of the state’s 
highest court.

It also opens the door a crack to the possibility that Mumia Abu-Jamal, 
currently serving a life sentence without possibility of parole, could 
have his 1982 murder conviction for the killing of a white Philadelphia 
police officer overturned.

The order, issued earlier this past week by Common Pleas Judge Leon 
Tucker, comes in an appeal filed by attorneys for celebrated jailhouse 
journalist Abu-Jamal. It represents yet another setback for the 
Philadelphia’s District Attorneys Office, an office already reeling from 
federal corruption charges filed recently against the city’s current DA 
Seth Williams.

Philadelphia prosecutors have spent decades fighting to sustain 
Abu-Jamal’s murder conviction for the 1981 shooting death Philadelphia 
police officer, Daniel Faulkner. Since Abu-Jamal’s conviction by a 
mostly white jury in 1982, entities as diverse as Amnesty International, 
state and federal government officials and prominent individuals around 
the world have condemned his trial, conviction and appeals process as a 
miscarriage of justice fraught with misconduct by prosecutors and 
judges, including members of Pennsylvania’s Supreme Court.

The current Abu-Jamal appeal centers on the legal unfairness of actions 
taken by former Philadelphia DA Castille, who as top prosecutor, oversaw 
the legal effort to keep Abu-Jamal on Pennsylvania’s death row, and then 
later served as a top judge ruling on appeals of those very actions by 
his former office.

Years after his election to the Supreme Court of Pennsylvania in 1994, 
Castille joined four other judges in rejecting an appeal by Abu-Jamal 
for a new trial based on documented evidence of egregious misconduct by 
police, prosecutors and the judge who presided over Abu-Jamal’s original 
1982 trial and over his initial Post Conviction Relief Act hearing in 1995.

Abu-Jamal’s legal team recently argued that Castille’s vote in the 
court’s 1998 rejection of their client’s appeal violated ethics 
provisions covering judges in Pennsylvania –- a basic legal rights issue 
brushed aside by Pennsylvania’s high court in its 1998 ruling.

This latest Abu-Jamal appeal centers on a 2016 ruling by the U.S. 
Supreme Court in Williams v. Pennsylvania granting convicted murderer 
Terrance Williams a new trial because of Justice Castille’s refusal to 
recuse himself from a decision on Williams’ appeal of his conviction. 
The U.S. Supreme Court in that case blasted Castille because he had, as 
DA, approved the decision to seek the death penalty against Williams. 
His later vote as the state’s top judge denying an appeal of that 
conviction included his dismissal of chilling documentation that 
Philadelphia prosecutors working for him had unlawfully withheld 
critical exculpatory evidence during that trial — a circumstance similar 
to documented evidence of prosecutorial misconduct in the Abu-Jamal case.

Attorney Judith Ritter, who along with Christina Swarns, litigation 
director of the NAAACP Legal Defense Fund, is arguing the case 
petitioning for a new PCRA hearing on Abu-Jamal’s conviction, called 
Judge Tucker’s discovery order “sweeping.” She said she expects the DA’s 
office to try to appeal that order right up to the Pennsylvania Supreme 
Court, though she notes that such an appeal by the DA must first be 
approved by Judge Tucker. She said that while Castille’s role in 
overseeing the DA’s efforts to block Abu-Jamal’s appeal of his 
conviction differs from the exact details of the Williams v. 
Pennsylvania case, where Castille as DA actually oversaw the prosecution 
of the defendant at his initial trial, rather than the appeals process, 
as in Abu-Jamal’s case, “There are a number of petitions now being 
brought in Pennsylvania in response to the Supreme Court’s ruling in the 
Williams case, and some are similar to Abu-Jamal’s case.” Most, she 
said, are being filed by public defenders.

Swarns issued the following statement following Judge Tucker’s order:

“Today’s court order granting Mr. Abu Jamal’s motion for discovery 
reaffirms the importance of fairness and integrity in the criminal 
justice process. The decision was dictated by the United States Supreme 
Court’s decision last year in Williams v. Pennsylvania, where the Court 
held that the constitutional right to due process is violated when a 
judge presides over a case in which s/he had prior significant and 
personal involvement as a prosecutor. In Williams, Ronald Castille 
personally approved the decision to seek the death penalty as a 
prosecutor and subsequently presided over Mr. Williams’ appeals as a 
Justice of the Pennsylvania Supreme Court. Mr. Castille similarly served 
as both a prosecutor and appellate judge in Mr. Abu-Jamal’s case – and 
15 other cases—potentially compromising the fairness of the legal 
proceedings. Discovery is therefore appropriate in all cases in which 
Mr. Castille’s dual role may have violated due process.”

The unusual U.S. Supreme Court rebuke of Castille in the Williams case 
cited judicial conduct rules in Pennsylvania applicable to judges who 
had previously worked for a governmental agency like serving as a 
District Attorney. Those ethical conduct rules require judges to remove 
themselves from “a proceeding if [their] impartiality might reasonably 
be questioned” because of their former position with such a governmental 

That 5-3 U.S. Supreme Court ruling declared that an “unconstitutional 
potential for bias exists when the same person serves as both accuser 
and adjudicator in a case.”

The order made a few days ago by Judge Tucker requires the Philadelphia 
DA’s office to produce all documents relevant to Castille’s role in the 
Abu-Jamal case when he served as the DA of Philadelphia, which covers a 
period of five years, from 1986-1991. An assistant prosecutor in the 
Philadelphia DA’s office since 1971, Castille became Deputy DA under 
then District Attorney Ed Rendell in 1983 and was elected to succeed 
Rendell in 1985. Castille was elected to the state’s Supreme Court in 
1994, and was later elevated to the position of Chief Justice of that 
court in 2008. He retired from the court in 2014 when he reached the 
mandatory retirement age of 70.

Supporters of Abu-Jamal are calling Judge Tucker’s discovery order a 
rare victory in a lengthy string of appeals of Abu-Jamal’s conviction 
because courts have for decades rejected even the most appalling 
evidence of improprieties repeatedly presented in Abu-Jamal’s appeals 
despite those same courts often having already granted appellate relief 
to other inmates who had raised precisely the same issues as Abu-Jamal, 
often based on less evidence of official wrong-doing than found in 
Abu-Jamal’s case.

Lawyers for Abu-Jamal in 1997 had formally requested that Castille not 
participate in the deliberation over their client’s appeal and instead 
recuse himself because of his earlier role as DA and also because of his 
long association with Philadelphia’s police union, the Fraternal Order 
of Police. During his 26 years on Pennsylvania’s death row, the FOP was 
the leading advocate of Abu-Jamal’s execution, often organizing protests 
by police that featured banners calling on the courts to “Fry Mumia.” 
The FOP had given Castille Man-of-the-Year awards and provided political 
support and campaign cash for his election to the Pennsylvania Supreme 

That recusal request was based on Pennsylvania’s Code of Judicial 
Conduct provisions that urged judges to recuse themselves from cases 
where they “have personal knowledge of disputed evidentiary facts 
concerning” in that case and when their former employment by a 
“governmental agency” raises questions of impartiality.

Castille refused that request and instead participated in the court’s 
1998 ruling against an Abu-Jamal appeal. He wrote a separate opinion 
along with the court’s ruling, presenting his reasons for rejecting a 
petition for his recusal — an opinion that included some bizarre 
explanations for his decision.

He stated for example that he had never “personally” participated in any 
aspect of the Abu-Jamal case as District Attorney. Using convoluted 
reasoning, Castille claimed that just because he had signed his name on 
DA Office filings opposing Abu-Jamal’s appeals as a “formal 
administrative requirement,” such actions did not prove that he had been 
“personally and directly involved” with those filings.

Yet, four years before that decision, back when he was running for a 
seat on the state’s top court, a former top aide to Castille told a 
local reporter that his old boss, as District Attorney, “was involved in 
death penalty cases” and that and that he particularly had been involved 
in “high-profile cases.”

Since the Abu-Jamal case was both a death penalty case and a 
high-profile case, either Castille’s top aide misstated his ex-bosses’ 
role or Castille misrepresented it.

When Castille campaigned for his Supreme Court seat, he told voters in 
his campaign literature that he had been a “hands-on” DA. But when 
Abu-Jamal argued, in calling for the former DA to recuse himself as a 
judge in ruling on his appeal, Castille claimed the exact opposite: that 
he had been a hands-off administrator as DA and that his role as DA 
would not affect his ability to be impartial as a justice.

Castille further claimed in his written rejection of Abu-Jamal’s recusal 
request that his participation in ruling granting relief to another 
Philadelphian convicted of killing a cop proved that he could be fair in 
Abu-Jamal’s case.

In that cop killing ruling Castille had stated that it was improper for 
a Philadelphia prosecutor to dramatize that defendant’s drug dealing in 
arguing for his conviction. But in the Abu-Jamal case, Castille 
contended it had been proper for Philadelphia Assistant DA Joe McGill to 
smear Abu-Jamal for his Black Panther Party membership as a young 
teenager. The thing is, Abu-Jamal’s BPP a membership had ended 12 years 
before his arrest in the shooting death of Officer Faulkner, while the 
drug dealer cited by Castile had been involved in a series of violent 
drug-related incidents, including on the day he killed the policeman.

Castille took his bizarre reasoning further into the realm of the absurd 
when he brushed off his long association with Philadelphia’s FOP police 
union. Not only did he deny any improper influence from his FOP 
associations and the financial support he had received in his campaign 
from the union; he also declared that Abu-Jamal was unfairly criticizing 
him without criticizing the four other Supreme Court justices on the 
bench who had also received campaign support from the FOP and who had 
voted against his appeal.

Castille, in defending himself against any FOP taint, exposed the 
indefensible underpinning of that 1998 ruling: the fact that five 
members of that seven-member Court had received FOP support –- a prime 
example of the grounds listed in the judicial ethics code for their 
impartiality being reasonably questioned.

Castille wrote: “If the FOP’s endorsement constituted a basis for 
recusal, practically the entire court would be required to decline 
participation in this appeal.” In Castille’s twisted logic, it was more 
important for FOP-tainted justices to rule on an appeal in which the FOP 
was profoundly interested, than that that those justices act to uphold 
the constitutional right of an appellant for a fair and just judicial 
Castille’s participation in the state Supreme Court’s rejection of 
Abu-Jamal’s appeal is one reason why the February 2000 Amnesty 
International report on Abu-Jamal criticized the “appearance of judicial 
bias during appellate review.”

/*LINN WASHINGTON* and *DAVE LINDORFF* are members of 
ThisCantBeHappening!, the uncompromised, collectively run, five-time 
Project Censored Award-winning online alternative news site. Both have 
covered the Abu-Jamal case for years, Washington as a columnist for the 
Philadelphia Tribune and Lindorff as a freelance journalist and as 
author of a book on the case, “Killing Time: An Investigation into the 
Death Penalty Case of Mumia Abu-Jamal (Common Courage, 2003).  Their 
other work, including articles on the Abu-Jamal case, and that of 
late CHARLES M. YOUNG, can be found at /www.thiscantbehappening.net 

Freedom Archives 522 Valencia Street San Francisco, CA 94110 415 
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