The Pennsylvania Supreme Court on Wednesday dismissed a petition filed by the widow of a Philadelphia police officer who sought to have District Attorney Larry Krasner’s office removed from handling appeals in the case of convicted cop-killer Mumia Abu-Jamal.
The high court did not give a reason for its one-page unsigned order, only to say that the petition by Maureen Faulkner was dismissed following the recommendation by Judge John M. Cleland, of McKean County, who was appointed to serve as a special master in the case.
Cleland concluded in his report that Faulkner “failed to establish the existence of a direct conflict of interest” or “an appearance of impropriety” that would compromise the DA’s Office’s ability to carry out its duties.
Three of the seven justices — Chief Justice Thomas Saylor and Justices Max Baer and Debra Todd — did not participate in the decision.
Three other justices — David Wecht, Christine Donohue, and Kevin Dougherty, a former Philadelphia Common Pleas Court judge — concurred with the order to dismiss the petition, though Dougherty filed a 23-page statement in which he concluded that Faulkner “exposed several grave and alarming allegations” concerning Krasner’s “ability to act impartially in this case.”
Justice Sallie Updyke Mundy filed a dissenting statement.
Cleland was appointed to determine the merits of a petition filed by Faulkner, whose husband, Philadelphia Police Officer Daniel Faulkner, 25, was fatally shot by Abu-Jamal in Center City on Dec. 9, 1981. Abu-Jamal was convicted of first-degree murder, then sentenced to death the following year, and courts throughout the years have upheld his conviction.
In 2011, then-District Attorney Seth Williams announced that prosecutors would no longer fight Abu-Jamal’s appeals of his sentence and agreed to a life prison term for Abu-Jamal, now 66.
Faulkner, in court filings, asked the Supreme Court to invoke its King’s Bench powers to disqualify Krasner’s office in the ongoing appeals and to direct the state Attorney General’s Office to handle them. She has contended that Krasner’s office has conflicts of interest in defending against Abu-Jamal’s appeals.
In one example, she contended that Krasner himself has a conflict because he was one of several “movement attorneys” who defended protesters arrested for assaults on police and vandalism during the 2000 Republican National Convention in Philadelphia, and such protesters called for Abu-Jamal’s freedom from prison.
Faulkner said Wednesday she was “quite upset and distraught” over the court’s order.
John McNesby, president of the Philadelphia Fraternal Order of Police Lodge 5, the officers’ union that has staunchly supported Faulkner, said: “We’ve suffered setbacks in this case in the past and we’ll continue to fight for Maureen, the entire Faulkner family and Philadelphia police officers. We are on the right side of justice in this case and we believe convicted, cop-killer Mumia Abu-Jamal should remain in prison for the rest of his life.”
Faulkner’s attorney, George Bochetto, called the order a partial victory, noting two justices, Dougherty and Mundy, issued statements with findings of conflicts of interest by Krasner or his office in the case.
Dougherty said there were “troubling claims” raised by Faulkner that “may require closer judicial scrutiny.” Mundy contended that “the appearance of impropriety still exists.”
Jane Roh, Krasner’s spokesperson, said the DA’s Office had no comment. The office has maintained in court filings that it has no conflicts of interest in defending against Abu-Jamal’s appeals.