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

An opening to challenge Abu-Jamal’s conviction

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 Williams' 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 agency.
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.”



story | by Dr. Radut