Tuesday, March 3, 2020

State Supreme Court Appoints Sandusky Judge To Investigate D.A.

By Ralph Cipriano
for BigTrial.net

The state Supreme Court today appointed Judge John M. Cleland, senior judge of the Court of Common Pleas of McKean County, to investigate Philadelphia District Attorney Larry Krasner's handling of the latest appeal in the case of celebrity cop killer Mumia Abu-Jamal.

According to a two-page order, Cleland will preside over an investigation of Krasner as ordered by the state Supreme Court. Cleland, who presided over the trial of Jerry Sandusky, "shall conduct such hearings or other proceedings . . . as may be required to determine" whether Krasner or any of his underlings in the D.A.'s office have a conflict in interest" in prosecuting Abu-Jamal.

"If the special master determines that conflict exists then he shall determine whether remedial measures may be employed to address the conflict," the court order says. It will be up to the special master to "consider the various allegations of conflict referenced in" the King's Bench petition to disqualify Krasner as prosecutor in the appeal by Abu-Jamal filed by Maureen Faulkner, the widow of Police Officer Danny Faulkner, whom Abu-Jamal was convicted of murdering back in 1981.

According to the court order, Cleland will hear testimony from both Faulkner's lawyers as well as the D.A.'s office. After both sides present evidence, Cleland has the power to "question witnesses under oath." The judge "shall also retain the power to compel the production of testimony and/or documents as appropriate to resolve the issues as directed in this order."

Judge Cleland has until June 1 to conduce his investigation and submit to the state Supreme Court is "proposed findings of facts."

It was D.A. Krasner who sparked the latest appeal in the 40-year-old Faulkner murder case by claiming that he had found newly discovered evidence when he took over the D.A.'s office, in the form of six boxes of old documents. Lawyers for Abu-Jamal then went into state Superior Court, seeking a hearing on the alleged newly discovered evidence, which turned out to be not so new, and Krasner rolled over, saying he wouldn't object to Mumia getting a new trial.

That prompted the slain officer's widow to go to state Supreme Court, seeking to disqualify Krasner as prosecutor in the case based on a conflict of interest. In the King's Bench position, Maureen Faulkner's lawyer, George Bochetto, spotlighted Krasner's radical past twenty years ago as a "movement attorney" and "strategist" on behalf of R2K, a legal collective organized by the National Lawyers Guild.

The Guild, a left-wing outfit, has long listed Jamal as an active board member. According to Faulkner's lawyers, in declining to contest the latest appeal 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."

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."

The state Supreme Court's appointment aside,  Judge Cleland's handling of the trial of Jerry Sandusky trial doesn't exactly inspire confidence. In 2012, Cleland presided over a mad rush to convict Sandusky in just seven months after his arrest. How did the judge pull that off? By trampling on Sandusky's constitutional rights.

Before the trial started, Sandusky's defense lawyer tried to get the trial postponed so he could wade through 12,000 pages of grand jury transcripts he had just received only 10 days before the start of trial.

Sandusky's defense lawyer begged for a continuance, telling the judge that he needed time to read the files and find out what Sandusky's accusers were saying about him; he also needed time to subpoena witnesses.

But the judge said sorry, we've got a schedule to stick to, so no delays.

"We can't prepare . . . I felt like Custer at Little Bighorn for God's sake," Joseph Amendola, Sandusky's original defense lawyer, testified during an appeals hearing.

Jerry Sandusky also had a constitutional right to confront his accusers, but Judge Cleland took care of that as well.

The night before the preliminary hearing in the case, the only opportunity where Sandusky's lawyers would have had the right to confront his accusers, the eight young men who claimed that Sandusky had abused them, Judge Cleland convened an unusual meeting at the Hilton Garden Inn.

At the meeting, with the prosecutors nodding in agreement, the judge talked Amendola into waiving the preliminary hearing. So the Pennsylvania railroad that Sandusky was riding on could stay on schedule.

After the unusual pretrial conference at the Hilton Garden Inn became an issue in Sandusky's appeals, Cleland recused himself from the case.

When the state Supreme Court issued an order to seek appointment of a special master, Bochetto, Maureen Faulkner's lawyer, said the move was "highly unusual."

"Essentially what the state Supreme Court is saying is that we want boots on the ground in Philadelphia to tell us what the hell is going on in the District Attorney's office," Bochetto said.

"I'm delighted with that," he said at the time. He added that the special master will probably be a "prominent former prosecutor with unquestionable integrity."

According to his official biography on Ballotpedia, however, Cleland was never a prosecutor. Instead, he was a former law clerk for U.S. District Court Judge Barron McCune before he went into private practice. His judicial career began with his appointment as a judge in Common Pleas Court in 1984.

Not exactly what Faulkner's lawyers were looking for.

1 comment

  1. It's not the PA Railroad, Ralph, it's the Short Line. Cleland violated every principle of jurisprudence in Sandusky's trail, and from facts in evidence was up to his neck in the Janitor Hoax. Maybe Cleland and Frank (The Rat) Fina should be celebrating their coups at the 19th hole at Club Fed!


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