Pressure DA’s office to release documents pertaining to former DA Ron Castille’s handling of Mumia Abu-Jamal’s appeals!
PHILADELPHIA—On Tuesday, May 30, The Mobilization For Mumia, a coalition of human rights groups in support of political prisoner Mumia Abu Jamal, will host a 2 p.m. press conference and rally at the Philadelphia DA’s office to demand that the office comply with a recent court order in the Abu-Jamal case: the release, by May 30, of all files that cite the involvement in this case of former DA Ronald Castille. The press conference will be followed by a march to key media outlets, demanding balanced coverage of the recent Supreme Court precedent that re-opened this world famous case as well as the cases of at least 16 other Philadelphia defendants. The coalition is also asking the public to call the DA’s office to demand the release of all files in the Abu-Jamal case, as well as the files of these 16 other cases, all of which were heard on April 24, 2017.
Baruch College historian Dr. Johanna Fernández explains, “The current battle for accountability in the Philly DA’s office is bound up in what happened in the Court of Common Pleas when seventeen defendants, including Mumia Abu-Jamal, presented the same claim to Judge Leon Tucker. Each defendant argued separately that one man, the former DA turned PA Supreme Court judge, Ronald Castille, played the role of prosecutor and judge in each of their cases—a conflict of interest and violation of the constitution. These cases were eclipsed in recent mainstream debates because they threaten to deepen the crisis of legitimacy in the Philly DA’s office. It’s far more expedient to focus on Seth Williams’ petty corruption, than to open a Pandora’s box: in addition to the specific legal violation that brought these defendants to court, their cases are rife with suppression of evidence by Philly prosecutors.”
These hearings and dozens of others were granted on the basis of a recent landmark U.S. Supreme Court case, Williams v. Pennsylvania, which ruled that it is a violation of due process for a judge to rule on a case in which he/she had prior personal involvement as prosecutor.
Many of the cases heard by Judge Leon Tucker on the Williams claim received favorable rulings. In the Abu-Jamal case, Judge Tucker ordered “Discovery” within 30 days of his April 28, 2017 ruling—that the DA’s office find and turn over to Abu-Jamal’s attorneys a broad category of internal documents they need to prove their claims. Abu-Jamal’s attorneys contend that Castille played a role in the case, that Abu-Jamal’s initial appeals coincided with Castille’s tenure as DA and that as top prosecutor, Ronald Eisenberg held, among other arguments, that if Judge Leon Tucker ruled in favor of Abu-Jamal, this case alone would overburden his office and the higher courts. Eisenberg failed to say that should Abu-Jamal’s appeal proceed it would open the door to hundreds of similar claims and create a firestorm for former prosecutors who went on to review the same cases when they became judges.
Even before Judge Tucker’s ruling, the Philadelphia DA’s office was under increasing scrutiny for its climate of racism and collusion with the Fraternal Order of Police. In addition to Castille’s direct role in these cases during his tenure in the DA’s office, his election campaign to the Pennsylvania Supreme Court was heavily backed and financed by the FOP. In addition, it was under DA Ron Castille’s reign that the infamous “Jack McMahon training tape” was produced to train Philly prosecutors to ignore a U.S. Supreme Court ban on racial discrimination in jury selection. In the tape, McMahon instructs prosecutors: “Blacks from low-income areas are less likely to convict … you don’t want these people on your jury.”
According to Pam Africa, “If we are not vigilant, the long history of corruption and suppression of evidence in the Philadelphia D.A.’s office could stand in the way of Mumia’s files from seeing the light of day.”
Mumia activist Joe Piette explains, “The potential to re-open Mumia’s conviction case is dangerous to certain people in high places. The case is rife with suppression of evidence of innocence, evidence tampering by the police, and coercion of witnesses to finger Mumia. The PA establishment has consistently lied about the facts of this case and demonized Mumia and politicians have consistently used this case to win votes through racially divisive law and order politics.”
According to Tiffany Robbins, “This opening in the case follows on the heels of Mumia’s major victory around humane healthcare for prisoners.” In January, a court order guaranteed Mumia’s right to be treated with the Hep C cure. Robbins continues, “this court order was the result of a two-year legal and political battle that could not have been won without grassroots organizing. The attention garnered by Mumia’s near-death, medical crisis, and the subsequent public campaign we launched on the Hep C epidemic in the prisons and communities across PA, may be partly responsible for a recent decision by Governor Tom Wolf to extend the Hep C anti-viral drugs to Medicaid recipients.”
The importance of Judge Tucker’s decision lies in its challenge to the numerous legal roadblocks, especially in the federal courts, to habeas corpus and petitioners’ rights to appeal their convictions. In 1989, the US Supreme Court established such a limit in Teague v. Lane, which ruled that petitioners in the final stages of appeal would not be granted relief on violations of criminal procedure, barring the emergence of a new “watershed rule of criminal procedure.” In identifying, for the first time in U.S. history, an “objective” definition of judicial bias, the Williams v. Pennsylvania ruling appears to meet the guidelines of this exception.
More information can be found through Mobilization4Mumia on facebook or by contacting mobilization4Mumia@gmail.com.