A Pennsylvania district attorney is defending his decision to stop giving client contracts to a Black Defense attorney who accused the prosecutor's office of racial bias in court last month.
On Thursday, Allegheny County County Attorney Stephen Zappala Jr. issued a memorandum sent to his deputies on May 18 telling them not to enter into agreements with the lawyer's clients, Milton Raiford, about what Zappala described as a sensitive diatribe. "
Zappala, a Democrat, told deputy district attorneys that they needed permission from the "front office" to withdraw the charges against Raiford's clients and that any talks with Raiford should be "remembered."
The memo was sent five days after Raiford told the judge he believed the district attorney's office and the judiciary generally "were systematically discriminatory."
Zappala's invitation, first reported Wednesday by The Pittsburgh Tribune-Review, has been rejected by Reggie Shuford, executive director of the Pennsylvania American Civil Liberties Union. Shuford said the policy did not follow ethics, violated the First Amendment and was very disruptive.
"Regional attorneys are some of the most powerful people in the legal system," Shuford wrote in a news release this week. "They have the power to determine the charges against a person and what the criminal proceedings are."
"Certainly retaliation against a lawyer who complains about racism in the DA's office by refusing to give contracts to his own clients, is proof of bias," Shuford said.
Zappala's office did not immediately return a request for comment on Friday. Raiford could not immediately be reached for comment.
Zappala is facing calls for his resignation as State Attorney. Emily Kinkead, who wrote on Twitter on Wednesday: "She just ordered her office to punish the client's clients who criticized the entire criminal justice system (not just the DA's office) for being" racist. '"
"He has just admitted that his office delivers justice in a different way depending on who is involved in the case and not the facts of the case," he wrote in a separate tweet. "Zappala has revealed his commitment to work."
Zappala's policy was reinforced by Raiford's remarks on May 13 in a Pittsburgh court after a trial in which his client pleaded guilty to stabbing in 2019, according to a Zappala text released on Thursday. Raiford told the judge he had not blamed prosecutors in charge of the case for misconduct.
Police are seeking funding for an epidemic. Activists find that 'annoying.'
At the end of the trial, Raiford asked the judge if there was anything he could put on the record.
In a lengthy speech, Raiford touched on topics such as racism in the criminal justice system and how the courts responded to the epidemic. He also said that Allegheny County, or Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania, in particular, is "the worst place to live" if you are an African American in terms of health care and jobs and that African Americans are moving as a result.
He said African Americans were six times more likely to be arrested by a police officer during a pre-trial hearing "than anyone else in the state," all he said, according to a law professor of ethics at the University of Pittsburgh.
At one point, a judge asked Raiford: "Do you think there is any way to settle a case with the DA Office that if your skin is darker, your contract size gets worse?"
Raiford responded: "Your honor, I think the DA Office is racist. And I think the justice system is fairly racist."
Raiford told The Tribune-Review that he said this because he was outraged by what he saw as racism in Pittsburgh and that his requests for months to meet with Zappala to discuss the issues had not been answered.
"The spirit of change is blowing in our country," he told the newspaper. "When state attorneys across the country find ways to reduce the number of black men in custody, it is a clear indication that our DA can make a statement on the steps it will take."
In a statement Thursday, Zappala said his office was "striving to carry out its duties with the utmost honesty and respect" to its citizens and that its policy was designed to ensure "consistent, evidence-based decisions and avoid non-discriminatory allegations" by lawyers.