Wednesday, December 13, 2006

The Most Powerful Word Of Them All?

There was a pro-Mumia abu-Jamal demonstration in Philadelphia yesterday, and it attracted some 300 people. Unlike other cities, here in Philadelphia, there remains considerable sympathy for slain police officer Danny Faulkner, so there were counter-demonstrators.

The Mumia issue is sensitive enough that it's affecting the Philadelphia Mayor's race. One of the leading candidates is Congressman Chaka Fattah (a major booster of Hugo Chavez's demagogic plan to supply oil for the poor), who is a longtime Mumia sympathizer and petition-signer. While he earlier said he would vote against a House resolution criticizing a French city for naming a street in honor of Mumia, more recently he's been backtracking, and reportedly voted for the resolution.

In response, Mumia defenders have condemned the resolution (passed 368 to 31) as paving the way for a "legal lynching," and as evidence of the "hatred the entire bourgeois state apparatus has for Mumia Abu-Jamal, a courageous, eloquent and unbroken fighter for black freedom and against racist repression."In his letter to to the French authorities, Mumia highlights what seems right now to be the most important aspect of the case -- an allegation that the trial judge used the "n" word:

My dear Monsieur Le Maire and City Councillors of Paris:

I'm informed that you and your colleagues received an insulting and somewhat threatening letter assuring you that my trial was fair, and my conviction and death sentence was just.
As for the fairness of the trial I invite you to read the Amnesty International report on my case to determine for yourselves if the trial or subsequent appeals were even remotely fair.
Only in America could a trial judge say (in the presence of a sworn court reporter), "I'll help them fry the n----r," and be considered fair.

Only in America could a state supreme court justice, Ron Castille, serve as chief prosecutor on direct appeal, and also sit as an appellate judge on the same case, and not recuse himself. What a fair appeal!

The trial featured lies, just as the threatening letter to you did.

Considering that even Michael Moore has said he thought Mumia killed Officer Faulkner, I don't think it's worth wasting time arguing whether he did it. I do think the "n" word allegation is worth examining, though, because the word has become so powerful. Merely asserting that someone used it is enough to shift the entire focus.

The "n" word allegation is based on comes down to the following statement, sworn to by a court

reporter in 2001:

2. In 1982, a few months after I started working at the Court of Common Pleas, I was sent to a courtroom different than that I usually worked in because the judge I was assigned to was going to be doing "VOP" (Violation of Probation) and post-verdict motion hearings there that day. I went through the anteroom on my way to that courtroom where Judge Sabo and another person were engaged in conversation.

3. Judge Sabo was discussing the case of Mumia Abu-Jamal. During the course of that conversation, I heard Judge Sabo say, "Yeah, and I m going to help them fry the nigger." There were three people present when Judge Sabo made that remark, including myself.
The foregoing is stated subject to the penalties of 18 Pa. C.S. Section 4904 relating to unsworn falsification to authorities and is executed by me on August 21, 2001 at Philadelphia, Pennsylvania.

Legally speaking, whether the trial judge used the "n" word would not be sufficient on appeal to reverse a jury verdict, because courts of appeal are looking for reversible errors at thr trial. Unless the judge said that in front of the jury (thus introducing bias into the trial), it's merely evidence of his possible state of mind -- not normally considered by a court of appeal.
What I'd like to know is how, in a hugely publicized, high-profile capital case involving a well-known local activist, a court reporter could have remained silent about this for nearly twenty years? According to the court reporter, she didn't remain silent. It's just that no one listened to her until now. Oh, and she just happens to be a pro-Mumia activist:

"I am pretty scared," Maurer-Carter admitted last week. "It was one thing when I was talking and nobody was listening. Now that people are listening..."

Now that people are listening to her allegations that she overheard a racist comment from Mumia Abu-Jamal's judge, the 42-year-old Wilmington mother and anti-death-penalty activist is preparing to become a player in this highly charged debate over two men's lives.

To thousands of Abu-Jamal supporters, she will be a hero for providing further proof that the former radio reporter was not given a fair trial for the 1981 murder of Philadelphia Police Officer Daniel Faulkner.

But to those who want to put the former radio reporter to death for Faulkner's murder, Maurer-Carter is likely to become a villain - probably even called a liar - who has attended Abu-Jamal rallies.

According to the 2001 news story, Judge Sabo denied making the remark:

Maurer-Carter has added just one sentence to Abu-Jamal's legal battle to obtain a new trial. But those eight words, allegedly uttered about Abu-Jamal by Common Pleas Judge Albert Sabo, are explosive and disturbing:

"Yeah, and I'm gonna help 'em fry the n-----."

Maurer-Carter said she heard Sabo say this to someone she did not know after accidentally walking through the judge's courtroom chambers around the time of Abu-Jamal's trial.
Sabo, who is retired, vehemently denied the allegations last week.

"I never said anything like that. Never said anything like that," he said.

It is unknown whether Philadelphia District Attorney Lynne Abraham will investigate Maurer-Carter's claim because Abraham's spokeswoman did not return repeated calls seeking comment.
As to when this happened, or who she told, she doesn't remember. She says that over the years she repeated the story to plenty of colleagues and lawyers in City Hall, but they all ignored her:
Maurer-Carter, a former court stenographer for another Philadelphia judge, detailed the charge for the first time last week in an interview with the Daily News. She said she was not sure exactly when the incident took place, but has narrowed it down to the spring or summer of 1982.

Abu-Jamal's trial opened June 17 and ended with a death sentence on July 3. Sabo did not preside over the earlier pre-trial hearings.

"I don't know when it was. This is what I explained [to Abu-Jamal's lawyers] over and over," Maurer-Carter said. "The only thing about it that stuck out to me was it was the first time I heard a judge say something like that."

Maurer-Carter had been working in City Hall for only a few months when - trying to find her new courtroom assignment - she stumbled upon the alleged conversation.

"I wasn't trying to listen to what he was saying," she said, explaining that she tuned in to the snippet about the murder at 13th and Locust streets because she lived just two blocks away.
"I perked up my ears," she said. "Then, when I heard what he said right before I walked out of the room I said, 'My God, he's not supposed to be saying that.' "

If she had realized at the time that her statement someday would be part of Abu-Jamal's voluminous appeals, "I would have paid attention more," she said.

I should have pursued it in the beginning," she said.

Maurer-Carter insisted, however, that she has not been silent for 19 years. She has - at the time and since - repeated the story to plenty of colleagues and lawyers in City Hall.

They all ignored her, she said.

"The people most immediate to me, I spoke to," she said. '. . .I said it to many people. I'm not going to say names of who I've told. I don't have an agenda other than the truth. My honest-to-God hope is that some of these people come forward and say, 'Yeah, she told me.' I don't think they will, but they might."

In spite of telling so many people, Maurer-Carter's experience did not come to the attention of Abu-Jamal's attorneys until this summer, when Maurer-Carter phoned supporters of Abu-Jamal to find out more about the case. She told the story about Sabo to a woman on the phone, who she said passed the tale along to Abu-Jamal's new defense attorneys.

Now that the judge is dead, (and cannot sign a declaration under penalty of perjury denying that he made the remark), I'd say that the remark is very much alive. Whether it was made or not, it seems destined to become the center of the case. Even if it wasn't relevant.

The Mumia case is now about the power of a single word. That's what will be the driving force. Mumia supporters will believe the judge said it, and their numbers will probably grow, because true or not, there's no way to refute it, and people have a way of believing that which emotionally satisfyies them. People believe what they want to believe.

Writer Dave Lindorff (in his book, "Killing Time: An Investigation into the Deathrow Case of Mumia Abu-Jamal") claims that he "managed to deduce" that another Judge (Richard Klein) was present when Judge Sabo made the remark. But, says Lindorff, Klein won't confirm or deny whether he was present, much less whether the remark was made -- something Lindorff sees this akin to confirming the remark, even though the judge refused to speak further because of the possibility that he might be subpoenaed.

While the Carter declaration does not refer to Klein being present (obviously, she herself can't swear that he was, despite the journalist's speculations), Lindorff's conjecture is now being widely reported as fact:

Journalist Dave Lindorff recently interviewed Mauer-Carter's former boss, Richard Klein, who was with Mauer-Carter when she states she overheard Sabo. A Philadelphia Common Pleas Court judge at the time, who now sits on PA's Superior Court, Klein told Lindorff: "I won't say it did happen, and I won't say it didn't. That was a long time ago." Lindorff considers Klein's refusal to firmly reject Mauer-Carter's claim to be an affirmation of her statement.

Lindorff is a 1960s activist (a draft era boomer born before 1953), Smoking Chimp blogger, 9/11 skeptic, Bush "bulge" theorist, 60s gray activist (picture and interview here) whose latest book calls for impeaching Bush. I think it's fair to call him a committed left wing activist, and I'm very skeptical of his heavy-handed attempt to place Judge Klein at the scene of the "n" word remark, because I think it's simply an attempt to bolster the Maurer-Carter claim. If there was anything to this, I think Judge Klein would have been subpoenaed and deposed long ago.

FWIW, I think they ought to depose Judge Klein, and get to the bottom of this. I'm getting a bit tired of the increasing empowerment of the "n" word. Raising the allegation of "n" word use now has the ability to derail almost any argument, defeat any candidate, and cause people to abandon logic in favor of emotion. At the rate things are going, people in all sorts of situations will eventually be tempted to throw the "n" word as a curve ball -- and not just criminal defendants. Family court or employment litigants. Manipulative children trying to get out of trouble.

As I suggested in the title to my previous post on the subject, I think the word is becoming analogous to a possessory offense. I've never been comfortable with possessory crimes in which the possession is the offense, because it renders intent irrelevant. While it would take some doing, anyone can theoretically break into someone's home and put heroin in a drawer or kiddie porn in a computer hard drive, then later phone in a tip. With the "n" word, it's even easier, as no "search" is required, and intent is equally irrelevant. Suppose a Judge Sabo had made a sarcastic remark like this:

"You talk to some of these activists demonstrating in front of my courtroom every day and they accuse me of being a Klansman and it's like yeah, and I'm going to help them fry the n----r! Right!"

When possession is the offense, context becomes as irrelevant.

Similarly, whether Judge Sabo was in fact a bigot seems at least open to debate, but who's interested in being fair to someone so vile as to be accused of using the "n" word?


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