The Widdershins

Archive for March 6th, 2014

“I will not counsel or maintain any suit or proceedings which shall appear to me to be unjust, nor any defense except such as I believe to be honestly debatable under the law of the land.”    From the Oath of Admission to the Florida Bar

Good Thursday, Widdershins.

Yesterday marked yet another inglorious moment in our Fair Republic. The nomination of Debo Adegbile to the post of US Assistant Attorney General for the US Department of Justice, Civil Rights Division was rejected for the very reason that it should have been confirmed.  Mr Adegbile held fast to the very principle noted above as being from the Bar Oath. and attempted to win a new trial for someone who had been convicted and sentenced to death under less than stellar circumstances.

I won’t bore you with a protracted discussion of Adegbile’s qualifications, as you can just as easily check out the link.  We’ll suffice to say that he served with several litigation  firms in the private sector prior to accepting the position of  assistant counsel to the NAACP Legal and Educational Fund.   He remained in their employ, and worked his way through the ranks until eventually becoming acting president, director counsel, and special counsel in 2013.  He has argued before SCOTUS in re: the Voting Rights Act.   Quite a meteoric rise for the man who experienced homelessness as a child, then first caught the public eye as Debo, one of the kids on Sesame Street during the 1970’s.

Debo was likely doomed with all of the Republicans from the start, simply because he is an Obama judicial appointee,  On this particular occasion, however he lost a number of Democrats as well, because of the NAACP’s spirited efforts to gain a new trial for Mumia Abu-Jamal.  Never mind the fact that the initiative was already in progress when Debo arrived there it’s probably still all his fault.  Abu-Jamal was convicted of killing a police officer, and that should be that.  Everyone knows that all trials with African-American defendants conducted North of the Mason-Dixon line are fair trials by definition.  So what’s the problem?

Well, there are actually several.  My one foray into the Land of the Frozen North in adulthood was a move to Philadelphia from 1978-1982.  I was newly divorced, got an interesting job there, and packed up my child and my cat and moved to the Philly suburbs to see what this was all about,  The ER that I worked in fronted on the affluent Main Line Suburbs, and backed up into some areas that would require an extensive renovations to aspire to ghetto status.  During this time, I got to know the Philadelphia police.

It’s easy to meet cops if you are an ER nurse.  Every ER that I have ever worked in has been thick with officers accompanying victims, detainees, and one another,  Police often interchange  ERs and coffee shops,  stopping by for a cup and a visit.  The better of them bring doughnuts for the nurses.   In general, I like cops.  I count many of them as my friends, and on the Irish side of the family, I have a number of cousins in law enforcement.  I guess it’s what we do.  Individually, the Philly officers were great guys.  As a group, not so much.  Their commissioner was Frank Rizzo, and Rizzo’s boys did no wrong, including the odd beating death and one individual who was drowned with a fire hose at a concert in the name of crowd control.  Oddly, it was a James Taylor concert, which one would hardly associate with snarling fans.  Go figure.  At a any rate, it was well-known in the city that there was no point in discussing obvious abuse.  Not only would the complaint go nowhere, but worse might follow.

I remember this case, though I hadn’t really thought about it in some time.  Philadelphia had some dingers of racial riots in the Seventies, and the infamous MOVE riots in the Eighties that terminated in the Mayor Goode bombing his own city – you just can;t make this stuff up.  In this crucible,  Mumia Abu-Jamal was accused of killing Philadelphia police officer Daniel  Faulkner on December 9, 1981.  He was tried, and sentenced to death in 1982.  Although the death penalty was overturned in 2001, the Philadelphia District Attorney insisted that Abu-Jamal remain on death row for the next ten years while he feverishly attempted to seek reinstatement, and did not give up until 2011.

So what’s all the fuss?  If he killed a cop, he should be in jail, right?  Indeed, if he killed anyone he should be in jail after a fair trial.  While I was living there, and do recall the trial, it seems some things have come to light over the years that might cast some doubt in the whole “fair” thing.  Not only does the NAACP think so, but Bishop Tutu, Nelson Mandela, and Amnesty International concur.  The Japanese Parliament has protested, along with the cities of Paris, Detroit, and San Francisco.  So what’s going on here?

Amnesty International published a full report of their findings, and it isn’t pretty.  Here’s the abstract:

Mumia Abu-Jamal was sentenced to death for the murder of a police officer in 1982 after a trial that failed to meet international standards. In this report Amnesty International conducts a full analysis of the trial of Mumia Abu-Jamal including the background and atmosphere prevailing in the city of Philadelphia in 1982 and the possible political influences that may have prevented him from receiving an impartial and fair hearing.

The major claims are that the trial was rushed, only minimal forensic examination was done, and that there was extreme bias demonstrated by both the trial judge ( a clerk signed an affidavit which states that the judge commented on “frying the n-“) and some jurors.   The prosecutors advised the jury that a verdict of “guilty” would be subsequently reviewed, and a verdict of “not guilty” could not – all true, but apparently the information was presented in an inflammatory manner.  His defense attorney was said to be less than adequate, although in general, Public Defenders tend to be overworked and under resourced.   In murder cases, the attorneys assigned tend to be more experienced, though Abu Jamal’s apparently was anything but.  There are two sets of photographs documenting the scene, but only one was used at trial.  To top it all off, there has been an actual confession of guilt by someone else.

All in all, this is one helluva mess.  There appear to be numerous violations in this trial, and the situation demands review.  The ensuing years have brought some change to the Philadelphia PD, and a number of officers were charged with (and convicted of) public corruption, and framing defendants.  I agree that there needs to be justice for Officer Faulkner – and Mrs. Faulkner – but there is no justice until guilt has been clearly established.

Senator Bob Casey (D-PA) is one of the “no” votes.  He  should be embarrassed.  Here’s what he said to

“I respect that our system of law ensures the right of all citizens to legal representation no matter how heinous the crime,” but added “The vicious murder of Officer Faulkner in the line of duty and the events that followed in the 30 years since his death have left open wounds for Maureen Faulkner and her family as well as the City of Philadelphia. After carefully considering this nomination and having met with both Mr. Adegbile as well as the Fraternal Order of Police, I will not vote to confirm the nominee.”

Casey parrots Constitutional rights, but filters them through the lenses of a police union and a widow.  The police union will never, ever admit that they might just have fubar-ed things back in The Day, and the widow might just have an emotional attachment.  The worst part of this is that  he is  actually an attorney, and should know better.   (Although I suppose that what he really understands is  the amount of  dollars forthcoming from a large union,)  I’m wondering how many of the people who voted  “no” fully understand the US Constitution that they promised so somberly to defend.  This is a sorry state of affairs – the worth of an attorney is now measured by the popularity of his client.

This is an open thread.


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March 2014
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