The Justices used extraordinary authority to delay Mumia’s appeal of his murder conviction.
“The request for King's Bench intervention came from the widow of Officer Daniel Faulkner.”
Recently the Supreme Court of Pennsylvania again underscored its willingness to impede justice in the contentious case of imprisoned journalist Mumia Abu-Jamal through issuance of an unusual decision that utilized a rarely employed power of that court.
Pennsylvania's highest court used its King's Bench authority to order an investigation into conflict of interest charges against the District Attorney's Office in Philadelphia leveled by avowed enemies of Abu-Jamal.
Those opponents, in their request to the Pa Supreme Court, included a claim that Philadelphia's DA Office was not aggressive enough in its opposition to appeals filed by this inmate convicted in 1982 for murder of a Philadelphia policeman. Opponents want the DA's Office removed from the case.
“Abu Jamal’s opponents claim that Philadelphia's DA Office was not aggressive enough in its opposition to appeals.”
Many across the U.S. and internationally view Abu-Jamal as a political prisoner.
One consequence of that uncommon investigation ordered by the Supreme Court is to further delay deliberations on an appeal pending for Abu-Jamal that ironically centers on instances of misconduct against Abu-Jamal by a member of the Pa Supreme Court.
King's Bench is an extraordinary authority exercised by the highest courts in only a few states. It permits those courts to override the ordinary legal process. Pennsylvania Supreme Court rulings limit King's Bench to issues of "public importance" that require timely intervention. As a general legal principle, King's Bench is not appropriate for an individual or group simply displeased with a governmental action
Last fall the Pennsylvania Supreme Court rejected King's Bench relief for two inmates who argued the death penalty violated the cruel punishment prohibition in Pennsylvania's state Constitution. One of those inmates has languished in death row isolation for 25-years. A Pennsylvania Supreme Court commission appointed in 1999 documented flaws and racial bias in Pa's death penalty, findings similar to those of a 2018 Pa legislative task force.
“Supreme Court rulings limit King's Bench to issues of ‘public importance’ that require timely intervention.”
While Pennsylvania's highest court did not deem death penalty injustices of public importance it did grant a King's Bench request based on displeasure against Philadelphia's DA Office from an individual and a group long engaged in a revenge campaign against Abu-Jamal.
Compounding this atypical King's Bench intervention is the fact that it took nearly three months from initial request to Court approval, not the promptness that 'timely intervention' into a matter of true public importance would seemingly require.
That request for King's Bench intervention came from the widow of Officer Daniel Faulkner, the murdered policeman in the Abu-Jamal case. The widow's constant supporter is Philadelphia's Fraternal Order of Police (FOP), the police union notorious for its persistent backing of brutal and racist officers.
Brutality and wrongdoing by police are issues in the Abu-Jamal case along with prosecutorial misconduct and judicial improprieties -- issues rejected by Pennsylvania's Supreme Court despite startling documentation.
“The court granted a request from an individual and a group long engaged in a revenge campaign against Abu-Jamal.”
An Amnesty International report on the Abu-Jamal case issued in 2000 criticized FOP influence over Pennsylvania's highest court.
That AI report noted, "the Court's own rulings on Abu-Jamal's appeals have left the unfortunate impression that the state Supreme Court may have been unable to impartially adjudicate this controversial case."
That Abu-Jamal appeal now delayed by the King's Bench intervention involved alleged improper participation in Abu-Jamal appeals by a former Philadelphia District Attorney, Ronald Castille, who served as a Pa Supreme Court Justice and Chief Justice.
Castille, as DA, opposed Abu-Jamal's appeals and later as Supreme Court member voted repeatedly against Abu-Jamal appeals.
Castille rejected Abu-Jamal's request to recuse himself from appeal deliberations despite specific directive in the state's Code of Judicial Conduct that "a judge formerly employed by a governmental agency should disqualify himself if his impartiality might reasonably be questioned because of such association."
“An Amnesty International report found that the state Supreme Court may have been unable to impartially adjudicate this controversial case."
In a 1998 Pa Supreme Court ruling that rejected a pivotal Abu-Jamal appeal, Castille rejected recusal with the specious declaration that he did not know any facts about the Abu-Jamal case.
Castille wrote in that 1998 ruling that he signed his name to DA opposition merely as an administrative matter and he gained no "knowledge of information" about the Abu-Jamal case in his tenure as DA.
Yet, years before that 1998 Castille declaration a top DA Office aide to Castille told a reporter that Castille was deeply involved in all death penalty and high-profile cases -- both categories applicable to Abu-Jamal.
Castille also wrote in that 1998 ruling that his career long support from Philadelphia's FOP did not impact his ability to be impartial in the Abu-Jamal case. Castille received electoral campaign support from the FOP in his races for DA, his unsuccessful race for Philadelphia's mayor and his successful campaign for the Pa Supreme Court.
“Castille received electoral campaign support from the FOP.”
In 2016, the U.S. Supreme Court issued a ruling that declared it improper for a prosecutor that sought the death penalty against a defendant to rule against that defendant's appeal as a judge. That ruling involved Ron Castille in a Philadelphia murder case, tried during Castille's DA tenure where Castille as Supreme Court member rejected that convict's appeal.
In 2018, Philadelphia Common Pleas Court Judge Leon Tucker cited that 2016 U.S. Supreme Court ruling against Castille when he granted Abu-Jamal the right to a new appeal hearing.
The Tucker ruling noted, "The claim of bias, prejudice and refusal of former Justice Castille to recuse himself is worthy of consideration as true justice must be completely just without even a hint of partiality, lack of integrity or impropriety."
That King's Bench request from the slain officer's widow criticized the Philadelphia DA Office for its failure to oppose having Tucker involved in further actions in the Abu-Jamal case.
Linn Washington is a co-founder of This Can't Be Happening.net. Washington writes frequently on inequities in the criminal justice system, ills in society and problems in the news media. He teaches multi-media urban journalism at Temple University.
This article previously appeared in Op-Ed News.
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