[Pnews] Judge in Mumia appeal requests evidence of Castille bias

Prisoner News ppnews at freedomarchives.org
Fri Dec 21 17:58:26 EST 2018


  Judge in Mumia appeal requests evidence of Castille bias

By Betsey Piette <https://www.workers.org/author/betsey/> posted on 
December 17, 2018

Philadelphia Common Pleas Court Judge Leon Tucker filed an order Dec. 7 
giving 10 days for attorneys for Mumia Abu-Jamal and the Philadelphia 
district attorney’s office to provide input on former Pennsylvania 
Supreme Court Justice Ronald Castille’s possible violation of a PA 
Judicial Canon on Conduct requiring recusal if there was an appearance 
of bias or lack of impartiality.

Tucker is requesting opinions on how this code of conduct applies to 
Abu-Jamal’s appeal and how it fits into the U.S. Supreme Court case 
Williams v. Pennsylvania, upon which the appeal is based.  Lawyers must 
respond by Dec. 17 unless an extension is requested and granted.

Tucker took final arguments on Dec. 3 from attorneys for Abu-Jamal and 
the Commonwealth of Pennsylvania.  Both agreed they had no additional 
evidence to submit. The judge’s new request is very important in that it 
asks for opinions on how the application of the Judicial Canon on 
Conduct applies to Abu-Jamal’s case and how it fits into the Williams case.

The question of possible judicial bias extends to Castille’s activities 
on capital cases — not just as the former district attorney — but while 
he was running for election as a judge or was a judge.

*Castille’s focus on ‘police killers’*

Tucker is considering the broader argument that due process requires an 
unbiased decision maker. Abu-Jamal’s attorneys added this second legal 
basis to grant the political prisoner new appeal rights in amended 
petitions and oral arguments during an Oct. 29 court proceeding.  They 
argued that Williams provides a specific application of that principle 
as applied by SCOTUS in a case where the prosecutor later became the 
judge on the same case.

Due process claims based on judicial bias do not require proof of actual 
bias, only the appearance of bias — that “a reasonable observer could 
conclude that a judge harbored disqualifying bias against the 
petitioner.” The question is whether the judge would be neutral or 
whether there is unconstitutional potential for bias. The PA Supreme 
Court has maintained that recusal is required wherever there is 
substantial doubt about a jurist’s ability to preside impartially.

Commonwealth attorneys claim that during months of searching hundreds of 
boxes of DA records documents showing Castille was personally involved 
in Mumia’s case were not found. But the prosecution released documents 
that expose Castille’s personal bias on capital cases.  One was a letter 
DA Castille wrote in June 1990 to then Gov. Robert P. Casey, a death 
penalty opponent, who would not sign death warrants.

Urging Casey to “send a clear … message to all police killers that the 
death penalty in Pennsylvania actually means something,” Castille asked 
Casey to sign death warrants and provided him with a list of capital 
cases where they could be applied.

Abu-Jamal’s case was not on the list because his case was still being 
appealed to SCOTUS. However, Abu-Jamal’s attorneys assert that 
Castille’s letter to Casey targeted Abu-Jamal. His was one of three 
capital cases at that time involving a convicted so-called “police 
killer.” They charge that this reflects Castille’s personal involvement 
in a critical decision in Abu-Jamal’s case.

*Castille: FOP’s ‘Man-of-the-Year’ *

Evidence also surfaced of DA Castille’s support for a campaign by former 
PA State Sen. Mike Fisher regarding passage of legislation that would 
further restrict state appeals of death penalty convictions.  The 
legislation included removal of final approval for death warrants from 
the governor’s office. A status report on certain death row inmates that 
was sent to Fisher included Abu-Jamal’s name.

Abu-Jamal’s attorneys stated on Oct. 29: “On Sept. 23, 1988, DA Castille 
wrote directly to Fisher urging passage of an amendment to the death 
penalty law and conveying his fears about the impact of Mills v. 
Maryland.” (That U.S. Supreme Court case, a 5-4 decision in 1988, 
reversed a MarylandCourt of Appeals death sentence affirmation on the 
ground that the jury verdict form used was unconstitutional.) Castille 
feared that “Mills may lead to the vacating of scores of death 
penalties.”  Abu-Jamal’s appeal contained a Mills claim regarding Judge 
Albert Sabo’s improper instructions to the jury, which became the basis 
for overturning his death sentence.

There is ample evidence of other instances of Castille’s bias and that 
he took responsibility for death sentences. The Williams decision 
included citations from news articles quoting Castille bragging about 
putting “45 murderers on death row.”  Some 36,000 Pennsylvania police 
officers endorsed him. The Fraternal Order of Police gave Castille 
“Man-of-the-Year” awards, political support and donations during his 
campaign for the PA Supreme Court.

The American Bar Association filed an amicus brief in the Williams case, 
which noted that Castille was on “a crusade against” the Federal 
Community Defender Organization that represented Williams. The ABA 
notes, “He was incensed by its involvement in state post-conviction 
proceedings, and even more so by its zealotry on behalf of its clients.”

*Refusal to recuse in Abu-Jamal’s case*

In 1996 Abu-Jamal appealed his post-conviction challenge to his death 
sentence and death penalty denied by Judge Sabo to the PA Supreme Court 
over his 1982 conviction by a mostly white jury for the 1981 shooting of 
police officer Daniel Faulkner. He also filed a motion requesting that 
Justice Castille not hear the case. The grounds for requesting the 
recusal were based on Castille’s FOP relationship and defense of 
prosecutorial conduct in the face of evidence of significant 
prosecutorial misconduct.

As a former Philadelphia district attorney, Castille’s name appeared on 
appeal briefs which argued that Abu-Jamal’s trial was fair and that 
evidence against him was compelling. Castille oversaw the legal efforts 
to keep Abu-Jamal on Pennsylvania’s death row.

Abu-Jamal’s lawyers at that time requested that Castille not deliberate 
over their client’s appeal because of his prior role as DA and his 
long-time association with the FOP, which actively campaigned for 
Abu-Jamal’s execution.

Arguing that his decision not to step down from the hearing was a 
“personal one for him alone to make,” Castille noted that while the FOP 
endorsed him, it also endorsed four other PA court justices hearing the 
case.  Castille claimed he had never “personally” participated in any 
aspect of Abu-Jamal’s case. Yet four years earlier when he ran for the 
state court, four aides reported that as district attorney, Castille was 
actively involved in death penalty cases, particularly “high-profile 
cases,” of which Abu-Jamal’s topped the list.

Whether Judge Tucker is genuinely interested in evidence of Castille’s 
inherent bias regarding the class of capital cases involving murders of 
police officers or if he is simply seeking to cover all bases and make 
his decision appeal-proof remains to be seen.  Due to the long history 
of this case, Abu-Jamal supporters know that reliance on the courts to 
rule fairly for Mumia is never a given.

Mumia Abu-Jamal is innocent.  A judicial win and granting new appeal 
rights for him would be a significant decision against the widespread 
policy whereby former prosecutors are elected and appointed as judges 
with the financial and political support of police organizations.

Abu-Jamal’s supporters have already launched an Emergency Response 
Network to fill the streets whichever way Judge Tucker rules. 
Demonstrations will take place outside the DA’s office at 4 p.m. on the 
day after Tucker’s decision. For more information and to sign the pledge 
to show up, go to Mobiliztion4Mumia.com.

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