Lynne Abraham, who served as Philadelphia District Attorney for 18 years from 1991-2010, wants to serve in that capacity again- but this time as interim D.A. for five-and-a-half months until a newly elected D.A. takes over in January. That nearly half year vacancy is the result of Seth Williams’ federal court bribery-related guilty plea and immediate resignation on June 29.
As much damage as Abraham’s beloved mentee Williams- who has affectionately referred to her as “Mama Lynne” and who was photographed kissing her during his 2010 swearing-in ceremony- has done to this city’s reputation, many people, especially me, believe she did even more damage during her tenure when she dragged us back to the bad ole caveman days of Police Commissioner Frank Rizzo.
Rizzo’s the guy who, as Mayor in 1972, gave Abraham the “One Tough Cookie” nickname. He’s also the guy in the 1969 photo wearing a tuxedo with a matching very large blackjack bulging inside his cummerbund. He had just left a formal affair to do his thuggish tough guy Commissioner thing at a racial disturbance at 25th and Washington.
1. The Honorable Frederica Massiah Jackson- It was exactly 20 years ago this month when President Bill Clinton in 1997 nominated Common Pleas Court Judge Massiah Jackson to the prestigious federal district court. Her confirmation would have been a truly historic event because this well-respected judicial giant would have been the first Black female judge from Philly to become a federal judge. But Abraham wasn’t having that. She ranted and raved against Massiah Jackson, falsely accusing her of being anti-cop and pro-criminal. I respect The Tribune too much to use the (appropriate) profanity that I’d like to use. Therefore, I’ll repeat what the esteemed Massiah Jackson so eloquently and professionally said in 1998 when she was forced to withdraw from consideration and described Abraham’s attacks as an “unrelenting campaign of vilification and distortion.”
Oh, by the way, karma has a way of showing its beautiful chocolate face at the perfect time. Did I mention that the 88-member Board of Judges has a D.A. Committee? And did I mention that the committee has a chairperson? And did I mention that the chairperson has to be the court’s longest serving judge? And did I mention that the longest serving judge is- yep, you guessed it- Frederica Massiah Jackson? But everybody who knows her knows that, despite what was done to her by Abraham, she’s gonna live by the Michelle Obama “When they go low, we go high” code. Dammit. Why Black women always gotta be so honorable?
2. Miriam White- She was an 11-year-old Black victim of long-term physical, sexual, and psychological abuse who was borderline mentally handicapped when in 1999 she frantically ran out of the house of her adoptive parents in South Philly and stabbed a complete stranger to death, just a little over two weeks after having been released from the Horsham Inpatient Facility for emotionally troubled children after first having been housed at the Woods Services Facility from age 8-10. Instead of showing compassion for a disturbed child, Abraham aggressively pursued adult murder-related charges against her. As a result, Miriam became the youngest person ever charged as an adult with murder and the youngest girl ever remanded to a Philly jail while awaiting trial.
It gets worse. When the case was assigned to Judge Renee Cardwell Hughes, Abraham filed a motion to remove her, claiming she was biased. As I previously pointed out, I respect The Tribune too much to use the (appropriate) profanity that I’d like to use. Therefore, I’ll repeat what Bradley Bridge, a cool white guy who does great work in the city’s Defender Association, so eloquently and professionally said in 2000, “It seems yet again that the D.A.’s Office has a problem with a hardworking, independent African-American female judge.”
3. Black Assistant D.A.s- Professor Jules Epstein, another cool white guy, is a top trial litigator, appellate attorney, and law school scholar. He was one of 19 lawyers in 1997 who received a videotape from Abraham who was running for D.A. against defense counsel Jack McMahon. That videotape showed McMahon as a former prosecutor about a decade earlier in a training session telling novice ADAs, among other things, “Young Black women are very bad” for juries and “The Blacks from the low-income areas are less likely to convict. There’s a resentment for law enforcement… And as a result, you don’t want ‘those people’ on your jury.” Her distribution of that tape was obviously designed to help her defeat him. In regard to that, Epstein perceptively stated, “Let’s not mistake this for a noble act. I wasn’t getting any videotapes in non-election years.”
It gets worse. Epstein also noted in 1997 that Abraham had once said it was hard to hire Black prosecutors because many “don’t like to put more of their brothers behind bars.”
4. Widespread Black Criminality Myth- When Abraham in 1996 was asked if she believed Blacks commit 85 percent of the crime in Philadelphia, she said “Yes. I do. I really do.” Following a public backlash to such a racist statement, she issued what many people considered a disingenuous and halfhearted apology wherein she kinda/sorta acknowledged racial discrimination in the criminal justice system.
5. The Deadliest D.A.- The New York Times Magazine used that “Deadliest D.A.” title in 1995 to describe Abraham based on her office’s outrageous 108 capital sentences. And when she was asked by the reporter shortly after the May 2, 1995 Pennsylvania death penalty execution of Keith Zettlemoyer, she said, “It was nonexistent for me. I don’t feel anything.” Wow! Who says that? Who does that? Shouldn’t a human being feel something when his or her decision results in the killing of a fellow human being, especially one who no longer posed an imminent threat?
Dear Board of Judges Committee: Please do the right thing and save us from five-and-a-half months of official racism, self-hating sexism, and inhumanity.
Michael Coard, Esquire can be followed on Facebook, Twitter, and Instagram. His “Radio Courtroom” show can be heard on WURD96.1FM. And his “TV Courtroom” show can be seen on PhillyCam/Verizon/Comcast.