Primary Election Day is the last election Pennsylvania citizens can exercise their fundamental right-to-vote without enduring restrictive Voter ID measures rammed into law by Pa. Governor Tom Corbett and his Republican confederates in the state legislature.
Corbett and conservative Republicans in 15 other states contend they’re not deliberately erecting restrictions to decrease the number of persons who vote for Democrats.
They defend their assault on the bedrock of democracy by proclaiming a noble purpose: preventing vote fraud.
However, vote fraud as a problem is so small in Pennsylvania (and America) it represents far less than one-half of one percent of the millions of votes cast annually.
If vote fraud was such a serious problem in Pennsylvania surely Corbett would have attacked it during his tenure as the state’s Attorney General, the elected office he held prior to becoming governor.
But Corbett, who cultivated an anti-corruption image as AG, didn’t attack vote fraud because he knew that “problem” wasn’t a problem meriting major crusade from the state’s top prosecutor.
Today, two Democrats, one Republican and an independent candidate are vying to become Pennsylvania’s next Attorney General.
Everyone in this trio from the two major political parties all have experience as prosecutors.
Each member of this trio promises to take tough stances fighting crime — employing the standard public posture (a/k/a “rhetoric”) for any person seeking a position as an elected prosecutor.
The two candidates battling for the Democratic Party banner in the general election — ex-prosecutors Kathleen Kane and Patrick Murphy — also promise to ensure ‘equal protection under the law’…an assurance that should be standard-operating-procedure but too often is not among prosecutors.
Current prosecutor David Freed, the unopposed Republican, doesn’t reference equal protection but does promise to continue defending the right of citizens to “keep and bear arms” plus be as friendly to big business as unfriendly to drug dealers and those needing the death penalty.
While the Pennsylvania Rules of Professional Conduct covering lawyers notes that a prosecutor has the “responsibility of a minister of justice” neither Freed, Kane or Murphy have placed campaign emphasis on addressing issues corrupting Pennsylvania’s justice system identified in the probative report issued in March 2003 by the PA Supreme Court’s Race and Gender Bias Commission.
Freed, Kane and Murphy certainly know (or should know) about justice perverting practices identified by that Commission like race discrimination in jury selection, race-based sentencing disparities, racism in the imposition of the death penalty and prejudicial procedures in the state’s juvenile justice system — specific practices implicating prosecutors.
It’s easy for Attorney General candidates to talk tough about fighting crime — but apparently it’s harder for candidates to reduce rhetoric and respect that “minister of justice” duty by dialoguing with voters about corrosive/revenue-wasting practices in the AG office and prosecutor offices statewide.
In 2009, Philadelphians elected a candidate for this city’s top prosecutor who pledged a “New Day” in the DA’s Office.
Seth Williams, the first African American elected to head the DA’s Office in Philadelphia and any other DA office in Pennsylvania, has differentiated himself from his predecessor (Lynne Abraham) on some matters but seemingly not on others.
Williams, for example, quickly initiated a grand jury investigation into the recent massive warehouse blaze in Kensington that killed two firefighters.
Abraham, conversely, opted against reopening her investigation into the fatal February 1991 Center City skyscraper fire that killed three firemen.
The late attorney Charles Bowser provided the DA’s office in November 1992 with 2,000 pages of deposition testimony and 900 pages of exhibits that he contended documented instances where owners of One Meridian Plaza failed to fix building code violations that in some instances had existed for years.
Those violations, Bowser stressed, created circumstances contributing to the firefighter fatalities. Bowser represented the family of one of those three felled Black firemen.
The information Bowser provided in 1992, from civil lawsuits arising from that ’91 fire, was not available when Abraham’s office originally decided against filing criminal charges for that fire.
Bowser, in 1997, questioned why Abraham’s office filed murder charges against the Black owner of a small West Philadelphia apartment building where several Blacks died in a fire traced to that owner’s failure to correct code violations while ignoring comparable code misconduct by Meridian’s wealthy white owners.
DA Office officials blasted Bowser for alleging that race played a role in prosecutorial (mis)-handling of those two fatal fires.
Abraham received constant criticism for soft-peddling police abuse — a stance some critics contend is often applicable to Williams.
Williams’ office continues to pursue criminal charges against Philadelphia photojournalism college student Ian Van Kuyk.
Van Kuyk’s March 14, 2012, arrest for photographing police making a traffic stop in South Philly violated Philadelphia Police Department directives permitting such photographing plus it violated federal court rulings and First Amendment rights.
Interestingly, the policeman listed as arresting Van Kuyk and (allegedly) slamming him onto the street during that unnecessary apprehension was the target of a brutality lawsuit that settled exactly one year before Van Kuyk’s arrest.
That federal civil rights lawsuit alleged that Officer Santos Higgins, in September 2008, assaulted a man inside a house before falsely arresting him not far from the site of Van Kuyk’s arrest.
Note to Pennsylvania AG candidates: Effective crime fighting requires prosecutors to pursue wrongdoing, inclusive of that by police and politicians, instead of persecuting people doing nothing wrong.
Linn Washington Jr. is a graduate of the Yale Law Journalism Fellowship Program.