PITTSBURGH (KDKA) – There is a mess in the Allegheny County Court.
This all stems from a mission statement proposed by the presiding judge citing “systemic racism” in the justice system, and many long-time judges have none.
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Sources say a closed-door meeting between President Judge Kim Berkeley Clark and judges broke out last Friday to protest final version of mission statement recognizing “systemic racism” in courts, with several judges taking it as a personal affront.
“They are completely offended because it’s bull. This is nonsense, ”said attorney Bill Difenderfer.
The judges made a particular exception to a section of the statement obtained by KDKA which reads: “We are committed to being fair and consistent, while paying attention to issues of bias (both implicit and explicit) and systemic racism that currently exists in the justice system. system.”
KDKA spoke in the background with several judges who attended the meeting. They said they found the inference that their decisions were racially biased and that they would not sign the statement offensive. Difenderfer, who also spoke with several, said he had seen no signs of racism from judges in more than three decades of defending clients before them.
“To just have the bold claim that there is racism number one is to admit a lie. Aside from Tranquilli, who we brought out of here, I want an example, ”he said.
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Judge Mark Tranquilli resigned from the bench under fire last year after KDKA first reported that he called a black juror “Aunt Jemima” and referred to the “baby daddy” of a woman. other.
Judge Clark turned down KDKA’s interview request, but months ago she wrote on the court’s website that she had formed a committee of citizens and frontline courthouse employees to write the mission statement after that and the equal justice concerns arising from the death of George Floyd.
Frank Walker, president of the Pittsburgh Black Lawyers Alliance, said judges were overreacting to a statement aimed at ensuring fairness to the public – regardless of race.
KDKA’s analysis of several years of conviction data in Allegheny County courts showed that judges were decidedly more lenient towards African-American defendants than white – with African-American defendants scoring a much higher percentage of pleas negotiated below or well below the prescribed range of penalties.
But Walker said racial prejudice is ingrained throughout the criminal justice system.
“I think it’s systematically racist, yes. And we must make an effort to ensure that everyone who appears in court receives equal justice under the law, ”Walker said.
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Last Friday’s meeting ended without a resolution. Judge Clark called another meeting in December to try to iron out the differences and come up with a mission statement that anyone can endorse.