e CommonSense: December 2005

Thursday, December 08, 2005

News: A Victory for Mumia

Add this to the category, "Appalling Judicial Developments."

In a major development in the 24-year-old death penalty case of Philadelphia journalist and former Black Panther Mumia Abu-Jamal, a panel of three judges of the 3rd Circuit Court of Appeals issued a ruling Tuesday that Abu-Jamal can appeal his murder conviction on three separate grounds.

The court put the case, which has been in legal limbo for several years, on a "fast track," with the defense brief on the three claims scheduled to be filed Jan. 17.

The first grounds is a claim by Abu-Jamal that the jury selection in his case had been racially biased because the prosecutor rejected 10 or 11 of 15 qualified black jurors, using peremptory challenges, for which no reason had to be given. The jury that ultimately convicted Abu-Jamal had only two black members, in a city that is 44 percent black.

The second is a claim the prosecutor in the case, Joseph McGill, had improperly attempted to reduce jurors' sense of responsibility during the so-called guilt phase of the trial, by telling them that any guilty verdict would be vetted later. As McGill put it in his trial summation, "If you find the defendant guilty, of course there would be appeal after appeal and perhaps there could be a reversal of the case, or whatever, so that may not be final." In other Pennsylvania cases, including one prosecuted by McGill, the 3rd Circuit has overturned capital-case convictions on the basis of the same wording used in trial summations.

The third a claim that the trial judge, the late Albert Sabo, was biased during the Post-Conviction Relief Act hearing. That hearing, which was held in 1995-96 to consider the validity of the facts presented at trial, as well as new evidence brought in by the defense, was controversial. At the time, the Philadelphia Inquirer stated in an editorial that the judge was displaying overt bias against Abu-Jamal.

Any one of the three claims, if upheld by the 3rd Circuit next year, could lead to a new trial for Abu-Jamal, who was convicted of the 1981 slaying of white police officer Daniel Faulkner. The most likely first action on upholding an appeal claim, however, would be an order sending the issue back to federal Judge Yohn for reconsideration, not an order for a new trial. A finding of bias on the part of Sabo could also lead to a reopening of the post-conviction hearing in a state court, legal experts say.

Monday, December 05, 2005

Attempted break-out at the juvenile justice center

We heard that there was an attempted break-out last night at the Juvenile Justice Center in Lima. Developing . . . (as Matt Drudge would say).

Friday, December 02, 2005

What's another week when you've been in prison for ten years?

Judge Clouse decided to push back Beatty Chadwick's hearing to December 6th, meaning that an elderly man with cancer will be in prison for at least one more week for failing to prove, to the satisfaction of his bitter and rancorous ex-wife, that he doesn't have millions of dollars stashed somewhere in the world.

Judge Clouse also said the hearing will be "en banc" which is a judicial code phrase meaning "I don't want to be out on this limb all by myself."

Today's contest is: which two judges will be on the "en banc" panel with Clouse?

(a) Pagano and Durham
(b) Pagano and Bradley
(c) Pagano and Zetusky
(c) Durham and Bradley
(d) Durham and Zetusky
(e) Bradley and Zetusky

The winner gets lunch for three on a Tuesday at the Towne House.

Abuse of Contempt Power

You have to wonder what the New York Commission on Judicial Conduct would think of a judge who holds a man in prison for over ten years without an evidentiary hearing. As they investigate Judge Clouse, is the Pennsylvania Judicial Conduct Board looking into the Beatty Chadwick story?

Unruly Litigants Should Get a Warning and a Chance to Speak, Conduct Panel Finds

Holding someone in contempt is usually a judge’s last resort, but a New York disciplinary commission felt that was not so in two cases in which judges were disciplined for issuing summary contempt orders.

In one instance, Judge Duane A. Hart issued a contempt order against business litigant John Modica after his lawyer, Leland L. Greene, tried to get into the record that the judge threatened to have his client arrested the day before. The judge made the threat when Modica approached Hart in a parking lot to ask for a continuation after the judge had denied the same request in court.

. . .

The commission sanctioned Hart with censure.

"We find the respondent’s misconduct particularly troubling notwithstanding that later that same day, at the conclusion of trial, he corrected his injudicious decision by vacating the contempt finding," the commission wrote. "Several factors have persuaded us that a severe sanction is appropriate in this case."

The other matter involved Judge Richard S. Lawrence of the Nassau County Family Court. A party in a child support dispute repeatedly and audibly sighed and was fidgety in the judge’s courtroom, according to the commission’s findings.

Two court officers repeatedly warned Mark Schulman about his conduct. When Schulman’s behavior continued, Lawrence issued a contempt order, stipulating that Schulman be jailed for five days. Schulman protested, and Lawrence upped the time to 10 days.

David Teeter, Schulman’s Garden City, N.Y.-based lawyer, interjected, and Lawrence raised Schulman’s sentence to 12 days. Then he told the court officers to remove Schulman.

The commission gave Lawrence, who acknowledged that he didn’t give Schulman the proper warning, an admonition. That finding was also released Oct. 20.

. . .

Outing Us?

We have received several warnings from kindly readers that we are about to be "outed" and that when we are, we will undoubtedly be sued. That raises two questions:

(1) why would anyone want to out us? Have we hit a nerve somewhere in this County, so that we can't be ignored?

(2) what have we said that isn't legitimate Constitutionally-protected opinion, and/or true?