Philadelphia Common Pleas Judge Lucretia Clemons is a model of a black woman from a very underprivileged background in racist, segregated and former slave state Mississippi, overcoming tremendous odds to succeed in a challenging career. Her grandfather, the youngest boy in a family of eight children, was compelled at the age 8 had to drop out of school work In the cotton fields to support the family., after his father, her great grandfather, was murdered Ku klux Klan terrorists, leading to the family’s loss of their home and possessions.
Judge Clemons, who earned a law degree at Philadelphia’s Temple University Beasley Law School, told that story in an address she gave this past November 23 titled “Healing the Wounds of Racism” after being named as a member of the Archdiocese of Philadelphia’s new Commission on Racial Healing.
Now it might seem presumptuous to suggest that a person who overcame such adversity should act to help those — especially those of her own race —who have been victims of this nation’s dee[p-seated institutional racism. It asks a lot of a person to put their own status and success on the line or to jeopardize further career advances by calling out injustice.
But Clemons isn’t just an influential and powerful judge in the nation’s sixth-largest city (she was earlier this year made supervising judge of the city’s criminal courts), she was giving a public speech calling on her listeners to follow the words she cites in her talk of the late Civil Rights Movement leader Congressman John Lewis, whom she said, “calls us to get into ‘good trouble, “necessary trouble’: trouble that when you see something wrong, you say something. When you are in a position to stop something wrong, you it.”
Even as she was saying this words, Clemons was alerting the attorneys for Pennsylvania’s most well-known prisoner, Pennsylvania journalist and long-imprisoned inmate in a case she is about to issue a ruling on — an appeal for an evidentiary hearing into new evidence in his murder conviction that was discovered three years ago in six crates of case files hidden away in a storeroom of the PA District Attorneys Office for decades by prior district attorneys.
Now Judge Clemons has hardly so far practiced what she was preaching to her listeners at that Commission on Racial Healing Event. Far from heeding the late Rep. John Lewis and making some “good and necessary” trouble to let Abu-Jamal — whose death sentence was overturned on Constitutional grounds over two decades ago by.a federal judge and converted into a sentence of life without possibility of parole — have an actual hearing to see if those hidden documents contain evidence of prosecutorial malpractice, perjured prosecution witness testimony, or improper racism in the prosecutor’s selection of jurors for seating in a capital (death penalty) case, among other things.
Although the documents discovered in those crates, which current District Attorney Larry Krasner and his staff discovered, labeled Mumia and numbered 1-6 in a locked dusty storeroom as he looked for a better desk for his office, and then turned over to Judge Leon Tucker, who was hearing Abu-Jamal’s appeal for a new Post-Conviction Relief Act hearing, Judge Clemons, in a “notice of intent to dismiss” blew off all Abu-Jamal’s lawyers arguments for granting him that evidentiary hearing, often using remarkably specious ‘logic.”
For example, one of the documents found in those crates were notes on a legal pad used by Prosecutor Joseph McGill during the voir dire questioning of potential jurors, on which he noted the race of jurors he was rejecting without cause. Clemons, who ought to have viewed that as a serious Batson violation which if established would lead to an overturning of the conviction, blithely blew dismissed the notion saying that Abu-Jamal or his attorneys missed the chance to point that out as they “could have looked over at the prosecutor’s table in the court room,” seen him writing and called attention to it from the judge! (McGill used his peremptory challenges to keep 11 of 15 potential black jurors off of Abu-Jamal’s trial jury and had a long record of barring blacks from juries in his death-penalty trial.)
She also made light of a letter found in one box from a key prosecution witness, with cab driver Robert Chobert, whose devastating sworn testimony that he saw Abu-Jamal stand astride the prone white police officer Daniel Faulkner and fire down at him four times, hitting him once in the forehead and killing him “execution style” was central to the jury’s First-Degree murder conviction and death penalty judgement. That letter to the prosecutor, never revealed to the defense, asked “Where’s my money?”
Why, one has to ask, is such important long hidden evidence of gross prosecutorial misconduct in the hiding of possible exculpatory evidence and evidence of misconduct by the prosecution, being blocked by Judge Clemons?
The answer comes from another judge, who spoke at a press conference held on Dec. 13 to highlight the filing of an amicus brief on Abu-Jamal’s behalf by the The United Nations Group of Experts on People of African Descent, a unit of the United Nations Human Rights Commissioner. Judge Wendell Griffen, a black jurist first elected to the Arkansas state court in Pulaski County in 2010, and about to retire at the end of this month, spoke eloquently about “what Judge Clemons needs to do.”
Judge Griffen said, “The problem that Judge Clemons is going to have is will she have the dour and the integrity to say ‘There are too many factors here that compel — that compel! — relief to Mumia Abu-Jamal, to justify dismissing this case. ‘’
“This evidentiary hearing is required. And what it must lead to is a decision that:
- Exculpatory evidence was concealed.
- It was a due process violation
- The only relief is to revoke the conviction, and if the commonwealth wants to try Mumia again then they must do that, but Mumia must gebe set free now!
He added, “Now if you are a law professor, that is the law professor’s answer that gets you an A. Anything less than that is a sub-par answer.”
That puts a heavy burden on Judge Clemons if she is sincere in saying that her Catholic duty, her duty as a member of the Archdiocese’s Commission on Racial Healing, and as one of the city’s most prominent black jurists now hearing an appeal petition in this long legally mishandled and politically corrupted case of a black man who never got a fair trial and is in his 41st year in prison 29 of them in solitary confinement and most of those while facing execution.
Doing the right thing and overturning Abu-Jamal’s conviction, which as Judge Griffen says is the only proper response to the clear Brady violation of hiding all those files for decades from the defense, will be politically explosive in a city where virtually the entire law-enforcement and political and media establishment want Abu-Jamal to die in jail, believing him guilty despite his corrupt trial. If Judge Clemons were to follow Judge Griffen’s advice, her likelihood of ever advancing to a higher court or to a federal judgeship would be zero.
Yet coming right ahead of Christmas, it would be nothing short of appalling if she takes the easy way out and simply rejects Abu-Jamal’s petition for an evidentiary hearing into the serious issues raised by the documents found in those six hidden boxes.