Thursday, August 27, 2020

D.A.'s Petty Feud Ices Hardworking Judge; Bogs Down Courts

By Ralph Cipriano

Against all logic, as well as the law, District Attorney Larry Krasner has persisted in waging a petty feud that's resulted in the transfer of a Common Pleas Court judge who, for the previous four years, had a record of disposing of the most cases of any judge in the entire Commonwealth. 

As a result of the feud, Judge Scott DiClaudio, who previously was disposing of some 40 cases a week at the Criminal Justice Center [CJC], is being moved to another courtroom where, because of restrictions imposed by the coronavirus, he'll be limited to handling one jury trial every eight weeks. The other result of the feud -- the D.A. has added more than a hundred completely unnecessary jury trials to a court system already overburdened with a record backlog caused by a continuing shut down of more than five months.

"This is really outrageous," said former Common Pleas Court Judge Benjamin Lerner, who retired in January after 21 years on the bench, after previously serving as Philadelphia's chief pubic defender.

"By continuing to pursue this path, which is entirely based on personal pique," Lerner said, "what the D.A.'s office really does is trample on the rights, not only of defendants, including incarcerated defendants, to a speedy trial, but also trample on the rights of crime victims and witnesses."

Krasner went to court last year and repeatedly lost a legal battle to get DiClaudio removed from presiding over any cases brought by the D.A.'s office because of an alleged conflict of interest involving DiClaudio's domestic partner.

Former Assistant District Attorney Catherine Smith had filed a racial discrimination complaint against Krasner, after he fired her on Feb. 9, 2019. In the complaint filed with the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission, a complaint that's normally private until it was voluntarily disclosed by Krasner, Smith alleged that Krasner fired her because she's white. 

The D.A., however, described the mass personnel changes in the D.A.'s office as part of his desire to "change the demographics of law enforcement."

None of the principals in this matter are talking.

As is customary, neither D.A. Lawrence "Stonewall" Krasner nor his alleged spokesperson, Jane "The Mute" Roh, responded to a request for comment.

Judge DiClaudio did not respond to several requests for comment.

Before he went to court, Krasner tried to get DiClaudio to recuse himself. But when the judge refused, on April 11, 2019, Krasner appealed to the state Superior Court. The irony is that before he filed suit, Krasner's D.A.'s office had never alleged that DiClaudio had ever been unfair to any defendant, or to the D.A.'s office, or any of its prosecutors.

It was a controversy that was aired last year in Judge DiClaudio's courtroom.

"I mean it's quite clear under the law that a [judge] does not have to say, 'I can't be fair,' " argued Assistant District Attorney Paul George, who's assistant supervisor of the D.A's Law Division, during an April 9, 2019 appearance in Judge DiClaudio's courtroom.

"What it [the law] does do is say that the appearance of a conflict, of an impropriety, does exist whenever somebody's who's very close to a judge is suing one of the litigants who's appearing in front of that judge," George said, referring to Krasner.

Judge DiClaudio asked George if it was his boss's opinion "that I cannot be fair?"

"He's saying that there's an appearance of impropriety," George responded.

DiClaudio asked George if the D.A.'s office "could point to any case or any matter, any motion or any minute" in the four years he'd been a judge "that they [the D.A.'s office] believe I appeared to be unfair."

"I cannot," George responded.

When he went to court, Krasner lost big time. In a unanimous Oct. 16, 2019 opinion, Superior Court Judge John Bender wrote, "In sum, we conclude that it belies reason to suggest that Judge DiClaudio would favor a criminal defendant, or disfavor an individual assistant district attorney working for the district attorney's office, based solely on [Smith's] filing of the racial discrimination charge."

As to any appearance of a conflict of interest, Judge Bender wrote, "Only the most unreasonable and cynical layperson could harbor such a suspicion based on the mere possibility of future litigation by a relative of Judge DiClaudio . . . We are loathe to speculate as to what additional circumstances would cause a reasonable person [or layperson] to doubt Judge DiClaudio's impartiality in all matters involving the district attorney's office."

After the state Superior Court ruling, Judge DiClaudio was ready last November to preside over nonjury trials brought by the D.A.'s office. But the D.A.'s office again sought DiClaudio's recusal, announcing in court that Krasner was appealing the state Superior Court's decision to the state's highest court. But on April 14th, the state Supreme Court denied Krasner's petition.

Undaunted, on three occasions this month, Krasner has sent his assistant district attorneys into Judge DiClaudio's courtroom, where the D.A.'s office had previously agreed to try more than 100 cases in nonjury trials before DiClaudio, and requested jury trials in every one of those more than 100 cases.

The cases in question involved retail theft, forgery, car theft, DWI, and low-level drug offenses.

For the past six months, the D.A.'s office has even refused to dispose of negotiated guilty pleas before Judge DiClaudio, plea deals that have already been agreed to by both sides. In addition, sources say, in going ahead with his feud against DiClaudio, Krasner overruled the recommendations of the most senior lawyers on his own staff who used the D.A. to just drop it.

In an interview, retired Judge Lerner said he couldn't understand why Krasner was continuing to pursue the feud with DiClaudio "which never made any sense from the beginning, and was firmly rejected by the entire appellate process in Pennsylvania."

Lerner said he also didn't understand why Judge Leon Tucker, the supervising judge in the First Judicial District, had decided to transfer DiClaudio effective next month to another courtroom, 1001 at the CJC, in the Major Trial Division.

Lerner described Judge Tucker as somebody for "whom I have a lot of respect and warm personal feelings for." But Lerner said he didn't understand "the court's unwillingness to speak out when one of their judges is so clearly in the right here and another actor in the criminal justice system [Krasner] is so clearly in the wrong."

Judge Tucker did not respond to a request for comment.

On Sept. 8th, when the courts are scheduled to reopen, Judge DiClaudio will be leaving Courtroom 905 at the CJC. It's one of four SMART [Strategic Management Advance Review] courtrooms specially equipped for video conferencing. That includes video hookups to the prisons, so inmates don't have to be transported to court to testify in Judge DiClaudio's courtroom.

By relegating DiClaudio, who was disposing of more than 300 cases a month, most of them nonjury trials, to doing a jury trial every eight weeks, "It has an adverse effect on the entire system," Judge Lerner said. "That's bad for everybody."

When the courts reopen in September, because of the coronavirus, instead of bringing in a weekly pool of 300 potential jurors, the courts will be bringing in only 80 a week, to maintain social distancing.

Defense lawyers who were reluctant to be publicly identified, described the transfer of Judge DiClaudio as a waste of judicial resources.

DiClaudio "has proven himself to be an extremely fair and extremely efficient judge," said one defense lawyer. "In his courtroom, I win the ones I'm supposed to win and lose the ones I'm supposed to lose. Isn't that the way it's supposed to be?"

"What Larry's really doing with this tactic is depriving people he publicly says he cares so much about to their right to a speedy trial," the defense lawyer concluded.

Said another defense lawyer, "With the coronavirus and the backup, don't we want to expedite justice? Wouldn't that be a good idea to help defendants? Everybody should let it go. Can't we be bigger than this?"

The defense lawyer added that DiClaudio was a judge who was not only viewed as fair by prosecutors, defense lawyers, and fellow judges, but also the people he pronounces judgment on.

"It's amazing to me that defendants believe he's fair," the defense layer said.

There's one last angle to the story about the impending transfer of Judge DiClaudio. The Philadelphia Inquirer had the story but then the editors there decided it wasn't a story.

It was yet another decision by the so-called paper of record to cover for Krasner, a fellow Democratic progressive.

Both the reporter involved in the story and the top editor at the paper did not respond to requests for comment.


  1. The INQUIRER will not handle such an important story. Not surprising, they have abandoned their mission to inform the citizens of Philadelphia of critical government issues that directly impact the quality of life in this city.

    What INQUIRER leadership will not "pass" on is the opportunity to fleece its readership for those who wish to publish a basic 4 to 5 line death notice for one who has died...$600.00 for four/five lines in a death notice.

    1. Eff the Inquirer. Racist, anti-American propaganda rag is good for nothing but training a new dog. In other words, dog dirt. Same with their bush-league scribes there: dog dirt.

  2. A great Fountain of Learning and Policy for the Inquirer and DA Krasner is the Brennan Foundation for Law and Justice.

    It is an abortion of the ACLU and a trove of corrupt liberal thought and propaganda which is propelling Democrat Inspired Insurrection and a must read to understand the Challenges ahead.

  3. Michael German, a Retired FBI Agent and Supervisor who specialized in Counter Terrorism and a James Comey Acolyte, has been in the forefront of promoting the Theory that Right Wing Terrorists have infiltrated major Police Departments including Philadelphia and are the greater threat as opposed to BLM and Antifa as espoused by DA Krasner.

    It sets the stage for prosecuting Police Inspector Bologna and SWAT Team Officer Nicoletti while serving in their capacity to enforce the Law.

    1. Why is it that the media give instant credibility to an retired FBI agent whose proof of infiltration by Right Wing Terrorists in the Philadelphia PD is some social media comments is proof of a greater threat than Anarchicts and thugs destroying property and looting. If it fits a Krasner agenda then titles not evidence is sufficient to support charges against two officers on trial for doing what the writer would stand down from doing.

  4. It is certainly very petty and retaliatory of Krasner to go after a judge because the judge's wife sued Krasner for wrongfully firing her.

    It is not clear why the judge being transferred to a different court will automatically slow the disposition of nonjury trials. Can't the chief judge simply replace Judge Scott DiClaudio with another judge who could quickly dispose of the nonjury trials?


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