By Ralph Cipriano
PHILADELPHIA, PA –– It looks like the radical past of former defense lawyer Larry Krasner may have caught up with him while serving as Philadelphia’s District Attorney.
Krasner’s activities as a left-wing activist nearly 20 years ago are now at the heart of a legal battle in state Supreme Court over whether the D.A. should be disqualified from ongoing appeals of the 1982 first-degree murder conviction of celebrity cop-killer Mumia Abu-Jamal.
In the latest volley, lawyers for Maureen Faulkner, the widow of Jamal’s murder victim, the late Police Officer Danny Faulkner, are spotlighting Krasner’s radical past as a “movement attorney” and “strategist” on behalf of R2K, a legal collective organized by the National Lawyers Guild.
The left-wing outfit has long listed Jamal as an active board member. The guild also proclaims that it’s dedicated to freeing Jamal and other “political prisoners” who are victims of the “prison industrial complex.”
But in state Supreme Court, Faulkner’s attorneys claim that the details of Krasner’s radical past “demonstrate an obvious and overwhelming appearance of impropriety and conflict of interest.” Krasner, Faulkner’s attorneys say, has both “an ulterior agenda and a fixed bias in favor of Mumia Abu-Jamal.”
The Mumia case has spanned four decades.
The story began on Dec. 9, 1981 on Locust Street, between 12th and 13th Streets, when Police Officer Faulkner pulled over William Cook. Faulkner, who had radioed for backup, was in the process of handcuffing Cook when his brother, then known as Wesley Cook, crossed the street and shot the police officer in the back.
“As Officer Faulkner lay on the ground bleeding, Jamal shot him four more times at close range, once through the center of his face,” Faulkner’s lawyers wrote in their Nov. 12th King’s Bench petition to the state Supreme Court, asking that Krasner be disqualified as prosecutor in the case.
A jury convicted Cook/Jamal of first degree murder in 1982, Faulkner’s attorneys wrote, “based on overwhelming evidence, including multiple eyewitness identifications,” and Jamal’s admission to a hospital security guard and another police officer that “I shot the motherfucker and hope he dies.”
Despite all that evidence and the conviction, the Mumia case has morphed into “indisputably the most notorious murder and prosecution in the history of Philadelphia,” wrote lawyers George Bochetto, David P. Heim and John O’Connell, on behalf of Maureen Faulkner.
In the past four decades, the case has been the subject of four appeals to state Superior Court under the PCRA [Post-Convction Relief Act]; numerous appeals to the state Supreme Court, and four petitions for writ of certiorari to the U.S. Supreme Court.
Along the way, the legal efforts to “Free Mumia” were supported by countless well-publicized protests that featured celebrity supporters such as actors Ed Asner, Danny Glover and Whoopi Goldberg; career race baiters Al Sharpton, Jessie Jackson and Louis Farrakkhan; and musicians such as Sting, Rage Against the Machine and the Beastie Boys.
Over the past four decades, the Mumia case has also “created prolonged agony for the murder victim’s widow and sustained internecine division in the city of Philadelphia,” Faulkner’s attorneys wrote. They quoted a judge who described the Mumia case as “one of the most polarizing cases in Philadelphia history.”
The Latest Appeal
In the latest PCRA appeal, lawyers for Jamal are claiming in state Superior Court that they supposedly found “newly discovered evidence” of their client’s innocence, namely six boxes of old documents found by Krasner when he took over the D.A.’s office.
[In response, the former prosecutor in the case, as well as former D.A. Lynne Abraham, have countered that there’s nothing in the boxes that constitutes newly discovered evidence.]
In response to Jamal’s latest PCRA appeal, the D.A.’s office, however, perhaps because they started this latest brouhaha, promptly decided it would not oppose yet another PCRA hearing for Jamal on the alleged newly discovered evidence in state Superior Court.
That led lawyers for Maureen Faulkner to petition the Superior Court, seeking to have Krasner disqualified as the prosecutor in the case. The state Superior Court denied the petition in October, so Faulkner’s lawyers filed their King’s bench petition in November in state Supreme Court.
According to Faulkner’s lawyers, in refusing to contest the new PCRA hearing in state Superior Court, the Philadelphia District Attorney’s office “is simply refusing to carry out its responsibility to objectively analyze the case and enforce the law.”
According to Faulkner’s lawyers, the reason why the D.A. won’t do his job is bias:
“Unfortunately high ranking officials in the District Attorney’s Office — including the District Attorney himself — suffer from undeniable personal conflicts of interest which are so obvious and so incendiary that the office’s continued representation to the Commonwealth all but guarantees a biased and unjust adjudication of the Jamal case.”
“To simply concede the issue now pending in the Superior Court,” Faulkner’s lawyers wrote, was “tantamount to refusing to carry out the District Attorney’s responsibility to enforce the law and defend the prosecution of a stone-cold murderer.”
Alleged Conflicts of Interest in the D.A.’s Office
In their King’s Bench petition, Faulkner’s lawyers cite several alleged conflicts of interest in the D.A.’s office, starting with Paul George, whom Faulkner’s lawyers identified as the D.A.’s current head of the appeals unit.
George, Faulkner’s lawyers say, “was previously Jamal’s lawyer” and “asserted that Jamal is innocent and that his conviction was the result of fabricated evidence, subornation of perjury and a false confession.”
Faulkner’s lawyers also cite Jody Dodd, Krasner’s former paralegal from his private law practice who is now head of D.A.’s “Reconciliation Unit,” despite being an active member of the Friends of Mumia Abu-Jamal.”
Faulkner’s lawyers also cite civil rights lawyer Michael Coard, described as a “close political advisor” and a member of Krasner’s transition team. Coard, according to Faulkner’s lawyers “publicly celebrates the murder of police officers and who advocates in multiple public forums for Jamal’s innocence and that his conviction was based on police fabricating evidence.”
Coard, according to Faulkner’s lawyers, posted on social media “images of pigs flying to heaven in the immediate aftermath of the shooting of 10 police officers in Dallas,” five of whom died from their wounds. According to Faulkner’s lawyers, Coard explained the flying pigs image on social media by saying he was “celebrating” the shootings of the cops.
Faulkner’s lawyers also cite Krasner’s wife, former Philadelphia Common Pleas Court Judge Lisa Rau, who previously was a law partner with David Rudovsky, another civil rights lawyer who represented Jamal in “countless efforts to overturn his conviction.”
Faulkner’s lawyers also singled out Jane Roh, “Krasner’s official, city-paid spokesperson,” who posted a Tweet mocking protesters who carrying “Dump Krasner” signs at a rally in support of Maureen Faulkner, “because of their race,” Faulkner’s lawyers wrote.
“There’s something about this picture can’t quite put my finger on it . . .” Roh tweeted about the protesters.
And finally, Faulkner’s lawyers targeted D.A. Krasner himself, whom they said has previously described former prosecutors who fought to uphold Jamal’s conviction over the years as “war criminals.”
“Krasner and his administration are rife with conflicts of interest that undermine the integrity of the adversarial system and raise clear questions of appearances of impropriety that will vitiate the public’s faith in justice being done,” Faulkner’s lawyers wrote.
As proof, Faulkner’s lawyers point to alleged conflicts such as Paul George, now a top official in the D.A.’s office, who once lost a PCRA case on behalf of Mumia to a couple of former appeals lawyers in the D.A.’s office, Hugh Burns and Ron Eisenberg. Those same two appeals lawyers, Faulkner’s lawyers claim, were the former prosecutors that Krasner ripped as war criminals.
Faulkner’s lawyers also wrote that the D.A.’s office was so biased in favor of Mumia that when they were investigating the alleged new evidence, they never spoke to James McGill, the former prosecutor from the Mumia trial.
D.A. Krasner’s Response
In response to Faulkner’s allegations, Assistant District Attorney Grady Gervino on Oct. 21st in Superior Court wrote that, “Mere allegations of a conflict of interest are not sufficient to warrant the removal of a district attorney’s office from the prosecution of a case. Here, no conflicts of interest exist that would warrant removal of the District attorney’s office.”
As for Paul George, he “has been screened from any participation in this case,” Gervino wrote. And in the past, when he represented Mumia, “George never met” with him, Gervino wrote. “He simply read an appellate brief after it had been written . .. and signed his name to it.”
In addition, Gervino said, Faulkner’s lawyers in their petition got George’s title wrong in the D.A.’s office. He’s not the head of appellate unit or chief of appeals, he’s assistant supervisor of D.A.’s law division, which consists of the appeals unit, PCRA unit, the federal litigation unit and the civil litigation unit.
And former Judge Lisa Rau, the D.A.’s wife, is no longer a partner with civil rights lawyer Rudovsky, and she is not an employee of the D.A.’s office so she doesn’t have any current conflict of interest, the D.A.’s office maintains.
In a Dec. 2nd response to the King’s Bench petition filed in state Supreme Court, the D.A.’s office asserted that regarding Michael Coard, the D.A. “is not beholden to Mr. Coard’s views.” The response brief also points out that state Supreme Court Chief Justice and former Philadelphia D.A. Ron Castille was on Krasner’s transition team, as was former Police Commissioner Sylvester Johnson.
In addition, paralegal Jody Dodd is not a member of the National Lawyers Guild nor the Friends of Mumia, the D.A.’s brief states. Dodd was a volunteer for Up Against the Law, which supports First Amendment rights for citizen protests, a group that in the past has provided support for Friends of Mumia.
— Jamal Lamar Chevis (@JChevy80sBaby) December 16, 2019
Regarding Krasner’s use of the term “war criminals,” the D.A. was engaging in “hyperbolic humor” says the brief signed by ADA Gervino, Lawerence J. Goode, supervisor of the appeals unit; Nancy Winkelman, supervisor, law division; Carolyn Engel Temin, first assistant district attorney, as well as D.A. Krasner.
When Krasner was talking about “war criminals,” he was not referring to Burns or Eisenberg, the D.A.’s response brief said, but “prosecutorial misconduct that led to exonerations of 10 apparently innocent people” who have been freed under Krasner’s new regime.
Jane Roh’s Tweet
Regarding the tweet by Communications Director Roh, it was deleted “at the District Attorney’s direction, immediately after it was brought to his attention,” the D.A.’s response brief states.
Roh’s tweet was “not authorized by the District Attorney or any of the prosecutors involved in this case,” the brief states. “The D.A. spoke with the communications director about the matter and the communications director was provided written notice that her tweet violated the office’s media policy.”
Apparently, the D.A. has a policy on social media that “prohibits employees from making any comment about a pending or future case,” according to a Dec. 2nd affidavit signed by Arun S. Prabhakaran, the D.A.’s chief of staff. He wrote that he was the official who “informed Ms. Roh” in a written memorandum about the policy violation.
As for the decision not to oppose Jamal’s request for another PCRA hearing, that was “a strategic decision made by the office,” the D.A.’s brief states.
The D.A. “wants to “bring this case to a conclusion in the quickest way possible,” and opposing the hearing “would do nothing more than to expand the litigation of rmany more years, which is something neither the D.A. nor Mrs. Faulkner desires.”
As for not contacting McGill, the prosecutor from the Mumia trial, the D.A.’s brief said it planned to present McGill as a witness if any evidentiary hearing if required.
In conclusion, the D.A. states that the “mere appearance of impropriety is not enough” to remove a prosecutor from a case; a prosecutor “may be removed only when an ‘actual impropriety is demonstrated.”
Instead of showing any actual impropriety, the D.A.’s brief asserts, Faulkner’s lawyers have instead “repeatedly misrepresented the facts” and assigned “nefarious and inaccurate motives” to the D.A. and his staff.
New Matter: Krasner’s radical past
In a supplemental petition filed Nov. 22nd in state Supreme Court, Faulkner’s lawyers detail Krasner’s work as a “movement attorney” and “strategist” representing “advocates for Mummia’s exoneration and freedom.”
The National Lawyers Guild in the past has represented labor unions and “oppressed minorities,” Faulkner’s lawyers state, including alleged political prisoners and activists. Since 1998, the guild has listed Mumia as member of their governing board, referring to him as a “jailhouse lawyer and VP Emeritus.”
Faulkner’s lawyers highlight Krasner’s work in the wake of the 2000 Republican National Convention held in Philadelphia. The protests during that convention included “A day of resistance to the Death Penalty and the Execution of Mumia Abu-Jamal.”
During the protests, some 400 people were arrested for allegedly assaulting police, obstructing roadways and committing numerous acts of vandalism.
In response to the arrests, the NLG organized R2K Legal.” A website explained the purpose of the group: “R2K Legal is a collective of over 400 activists that were arrested during the Republican National Convention protests in Philadelphia PA … Along with supporters and attorneys, they are taking their legal defense into their own hands, and forcing the process to be political.”
According to an R2K press release, the protesters at the convention were out there to aidovicate: “FREEDOM OF MUMIA ABU-JAMAL AND ALL POLITICAL PRISIONERS” as well as “ABOLISH THE DEATH PENALTY, ABOLISH THE PRISON INDUSTRIAL COMPLEX, STOP POLICE TERROR” and “END THE CORPORATE WAR ON THE POOR.”
Kris Hermes, a former NLG vice president, wrote a book in 2015 about the protests at the Convention entitled “Crashing the Party.” In the acknowledgements section of the book, Hermes thanked “movement attorneys” by name including Krasner. Hermes also wrote that a core member of the R2K group, Caleb Arnold, was represented by Krasner, along with another codefendant Danielle Redden, as they protested the “prison industrial complex.”
Krasner subsequently hired Arnold to work at the D.A.’s Immigration Rights Unit. In Hermes’ book, he also cited Krasner paralegal Jody Dodd as a “dedicated activist” on behalf of the protesters.
Krasner’s role in the R2K legal collective was not limited to representing individual defendants but also “included a prominent role in deciding the collective political and legal strategy for R2K,” Faulkner’s lawyers wrote.
“These lawyers are committed to the progressive political goals of many of the protesters and are willing to utilize solidarity as a tactic for achieving the group’s goals,” Hermes wrote.
In an interview to promote his book, Hermes explained that benefits of the R2K Legal collective that Krasner was a part of: to “establish an important link between the political movements the defendants are part of and the lawyers representing them.”
Legal collectives, Hermes said in an interview, “have the unique opportunity to politicize criminal cases, including organizing the defendants to be strategic and bring politics into the courtroom.”
As part of his activities on behalf of convention protesters, Faulkner’s lawyers wrote, Krasner was one of the R2K lawyers assigned to research ways to recuse Judge Seamus McCaffery, a former cop of 20 years who was known as a pro-cop judge in Philadelphia Municipal Court.
The lawyers who tried but failed to remove McCaffery as judge cited as reasons for his removal, his career as a cop, his membership in the FOP, and his role as grand marshal of the Daniel Faulkner Memorial Motorcycle Run.
“Krasner was an attorney and lead strategist on a legal team organized by a legal association on which Mumia Abu-Jamal is an active board member and which is dedicated to freeing Jamal,” Faulkner’s lawyers wrote.
“The same legal team sought the disqualification of Judge [McCaffery] because of his association with Faulkner and the Mumia Abu-Jamal case.”
“The court should have grave concerns over Krasner’s failure to disclose his work on behalf of R2K, NLJ, and the movement to “Free Mumia” since becoming the district attorney,” Faulkner’s lawyers wrote.
“Krasner’s failure to disclose these significant connections to the movement to ‘Free Mumia’ combined with the multiple points of conflict raised in the King’s Bench Petition, support the conclusion that he has an ulterior agenda and fixed bias in favor of Mumia Abu-Jamal.”
About that new evidence
In a Nov. 18th affidavit, Joseph McGill, the sole prosecutor at the original Mumia trial back in 1982 states that he was never contacted by anyone in Krasner’s office prior to the D.A.’s decision not to oppose Krasner’s request for a new PCRA hearing based on the alleged newly discovered evidence.
The evidence talks about a letter from Robert Chobert, an eyewitness in the Danny Faulkner murder, to the prosecutor, a letter that allegedly shows that Chobert was “offered payment in connection with his testimony.”
Mumia’s lawyers also argued that the prosecutor was improperly tracking the race of all prospective jurors in the case, with the intention of excluding minorities.
They also claim that prosecutor McGill gave Cynthia White, a prostitute who was another eyewitness to the murder of Faulkner “incentives and promises” to testify, because McGill was supposedly tracking her subsequent prosecutions for misdemeanors.
It’s all bunk, McGill says.
In his affidavit, McGill states that after the trial was over, he thanked Chobert for his testimony, which the prosecutor said was given “at great risk to his own personal safety.”
At that time, the prosecutor said, he asked if he could do anything for Chobert, and the witness asked if he could be “compensated for the time he lost from his taxi business.” In his affidavit, McGill said he told Chobert he would “look into it.” In his letter to McGill, Chobert apparently was trying to remind McGill about the possibility of being compensated.
But the conversation between McGill and Chobert happened afterthe trial. Same for Chobert’s letter, included in the alleged newly discovered evidence. It was written by Chobert in August 1982, a month after the Mumia trial was over.
McGill also states that he never knew Chobert when he gave his eyewitness account of the Faulkner murder to police. Jamal was arrested at the crime scene, McGill wrote in his affidavit, by a police officer who arrived “within 45 seconds of a radio call from a wounded Officer Faulkner.”
“Chobert witnessed the murder and identified Jamal at the scene as the murderer of Officer Faulkner. Chobert’s on-scene identification was made weeks before I ever met Chobert and before I was assigned to prosecute the case.”
“In fact the murder occurred at 3:55 in the morning so at the time Chobert identified Jamal, I was home asleep,” McGill wrote. “I never at any time before, during or after I was assigned as the prosecutor in the case promised Chobert anything of value in exchange for his testimony.”
Although McGill said he did promise to look into whether Chobert could be compensated for lost time from his taxi cab business, “I did not look into it because although his loss of time from work was a legitimate grievance, such reimbursement is not practical, or the police of the DAO; indeed the District Attorney never had a budget for such items.”
McGill then got to his bottom line.
“The suggestion that I paid a witness to testify is offensive and particularly preposterous given the timing” of the witness’s original identification of Mumia as the shooter, which was done well before McGill ever entered the case as prosecutor.
McGill conceded his handwritten notes from the trial did list the race of the prospective jurors, as well as where they lived, their vocations and the vocations of their relatives, etc. He said the original jury he picked had four blacks, but one was struck by lawyers for Mumia and a second was dismissed by the trial judge.
Two black jurors, McGill said, remained on the jury that convicted Mumia.
In his affidavit, McGill said his conduct during jury selection in the Jamal trial “has been scrutinized repeatedly by both state and federal courts including the state Supreme Court and the 3rd Circuit Court of Appeals. No court has ever found any evidence that I engaged in” any violations and “nothing in the ‘new evidence’ suggests otherwise.”
Finally, regarding White, the prostitute who witnessed the Faulkner murder, McGill in his affidavit cited a 1982 memo from an ADA in charge of Municipal Court prosecutions who wrote that “there were no specific deals worked out for her [White’s] testimony so these cases [against her] should be vigorously prosecuted.”
But a Municipal Court judge subsequently decided to dismiss the charges against White for a variety of reasons that included the failure of a witness to appear despite being under subpoena and a police officer retiring and being unable to testify against White.
“I never took any steps to intervene in the prosecution of Cynthia White for any crime,” McGill wrote. She testified “bravely and truthfully and I admired her for her part in bringing to justice a man who executed a police officer in cold blood.”
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