ARCHER & GREINER, the law firm that's employed mayoral candidate Lynne Abraham since she left the District Attorney's Office, has had a prominent past role in defending police officers accused of misconduct, including some of the narcotics squad now on trial in a federal court.
For years, the firm held a contract with the city to defend troubled officers and other city employees in civil-rights cases. Although the firm still does business with the city, that contract ended in December, just two weeks after Abraham announced she was running for mayor.
Abraham said she continues to have an ownership stake in the firm, but is not involved in any active cases and had no involvement in defending any police officers while at Archer & Greiner.
"When she left the D.A.'s office, she left all aspects of the work she did behind," said campaign spokesman Sam Coleman. "That's why the majority of her work has been in estates and malpractice."
Abraham's job with Archer & Greiner is significant only because she's long been criticized for being soft on cop corruption, a charge she vehemently denies.
The increasing national outrage concerning police brutality in the wake of notorious cases in Ferguson, New York City and Baltimore hasn't helped.
At a recent public forum, Abraham became evasive when confronted about her law firm's defense of civil abuse claims against narcotics officers who were ultimately indicted.
"That's not true, I don't believe so. Nope," Abraham said of Archer & Greiner's representation of those officers. She later said she "didn't know" if the firm was involved, and changed the subject.
Later, on WHYY's "Radio Times," Abraham said, "Who my firm represents is nothing to talk about because I don't talk about our clients or who we take on."
Then, when asked by a reporter this week about the firm's defense work for accused narcotics officers, Abraham's campaign issued yet another statement.
"Archer & Greiner is not handling this case. Her firm was one of many firms, that had a contract with the city of Philadelphia to represent the city in matters that would present a conflict of interest. This contract ended a year and half ago," wrote a campaign spokesman in an email.
That is not entirely accurate.
"Since the 1990s, I have and the firm has later represented police officers in conflict matters for the city," said Archer & Greiner managing partner Jeffrey Kolansky. "We represented most of the police officers that were later charged in [the 2014 narcotics] case in a series of civil-rights allegations."
Archer & Greiner had held contracts for what is known as "conflict counsel" with the city since the mid-2000s, according to Kolansky. Conflict counsel are private lawyers who defend city employees when city lawyers cannot because of conflicts of interest.
Such circumstances led to Archer & Greiner attorneys representing narcotics officers John Speiser, Brian Reynolds and Thomas Liciardello, who are currently on trial for corruption in federal court.
"We represented [those officers] in these underlying civil cases that are part of the current federal indictment," said Kolansky, who stressed that Abraham had no involvement in any of those cases. "As soon as the indictments came down we withdrew."
The firm ended its $388,000 a year civil-rights contract, which handled most cases of alleged police abuse, on Dec. 3 of last year. However, the senior partner also said the firm may still occasionally represent "police officers in general litigation conflicts" through another $85,000 contract with the city.
So what exactly did Abraham mean when she said the firm hadn't had a contract with the city in a year and a half?
Her campaign now says that she was only referring to Archer & Greiner's now expired civil rights contract, and that a partner at the firm gave her the incorrect date when she called to confirm that detail.
"She asked someone specifically about it and the information she received was wrong," said Coleman, Abraham's spokesman. "Lynne obviously knew the contract occurred, but she wasn't involved in the specific cases . . . She didn't know when the representation began or when it ended."
Coleman said that, more importantly, her involvement with a firm that had defended a number of troubled police officers would not affect her judgment were she to be elected mayor.
"She doesn't believe it would in any way color the discipline or prosecution of officers that engaged in police brutality," he said. "Lynne does what she wants; she's motivated by integrity."
Cobbs Creek resident Sarah Morris, who raised the question about Abraham's law firm at the recent forum, says she is not convinced."It's clear that Ms. Abraham doesn't want the public to know that she has spent the last five years as partner at a law firm that defends police against wrongful death and excessive force lawsuits," Morris said.