Abraham, Rendell Split On Nominee The D.a. Urged Senators To Reject Frederica Massiah-jackson For U.s. Court. The Mayor Rallied In Support Of The Judge.

Posted: January 10, 1998

District Attorney Lynne M. Abraham has taken the unusual step of writing to U.S. senators to express her opposition to the confirmation of a Common Pleas Court judge who stands to become the first black woman on the federal bench in Philadelphia.

Mayor Rendell, who has supported Judge Frederica Massiah-Jackson since she was nominated by President Clinton in July, differed with Abraham, a fellow Democrat, and held a news conference yesterday to rally support for Massiah-Jackson.

Abraham and Rendell are on opposite sides of a mounting controversy over whether Massiah-Jackson, 47, a judge elected to Common Pleas Court in 1983, should be confirmed by the Senate on Jan. 28 for a seat on the U.S. District Court here.

Meanwhile, black political leaders expressed surprise yesterday that Abraham, who has been mentioned as a possible mayoral candidate, had joined conservative U.S. senators, including Orrin Hatch of Utah and Strom Thurmond of South Carolina, in trying to derail Massiah-Jackson's confirmation.

``She's known [Massiah-Jackson] for years, she served with her on the bench, and she waited until the 11th hour to bushwhack her nomination,'' said Jerome Mondesire, head of the Philadelphia NAACP.

Abraham sent a letter Thursday to U.S. Sen. Arlen Specter (R., Pa.), with copies to the U.S. Senate Judiciary Committee. On the same day, the executive committee of the Pennsylvania District Attorneys Association announced its opposition to Massiah-Jackson's nomination.

The prosecutors' group based its opposition on data on Massiah-Jackson's judicial records that was supplied by Abraham's office, said Northampton County District Attorney John Morganelli, who yesterday began telephoning senators to urge them to vote against Massiah-Jackson.

Mondesire said the NAACP and black elected officials would hold a news conference Monday to criticize Abraham and urge Philadelphians to boycott Abraham's swearing-in to a new term as district attorney Tuesday.

In her letter to Specter, Abraham said the decision to oppose Massiah-Jackson was ``difficult'' because she had campaigned with her, and had served on the same court in the 1980s.

Abraham wrote that she was opposing the nomination not ``because of a personal disagreement with some decisions'' by Massiah-Jackson or remarks made ``in the heat of courtroom arguments.''

Rather, she said, ``this nominee's record presents multiple instances of a deeply ingrained and pervasive bias against prosecutors and law-enforcement officers - and, by extension, an insensitivity to victims of crime.''

In its statement, the district attorneys association cited what it called Massiah-Jackson's lack of judicial temperament and occasional use of vulgar language from the bench. It also said her record as a judge showed a ``tendency to be lenient'' to defendants.

Rendell suggested the district attorneys were misguided in criticizing Massiah-Jackson for lenience, because most of her sentences were well within the mainstream.

``It's very, very important not to look at individual, isolated cases of a judge'' who has tried ``thousands of cases,'' said the mayor. ``Because anybody could disagree with isolated sentences of any judge. It's important to look at the overall sentencing record.''

Rendell, a former two-term district attorney, produced statistics showing that Massiah-Jackson, when she tried criminal cases, departed from state sentencing guidelines no more often than her colleagues on the bench. Since 1991, Massiah-Jackson has presided over civil trials.

Rendell said Massiah-Jackson's critics had selected a few ``isolated'' cases out of 4,000 heard by the judge.

Abraham, in her letter, told Specter she was departing from her usual policy of not speaking out on federal judicial nominations after a careful review of Massiah-Jackson's sentencing statistics, verdicts, courtroom testimony and other documents.

``I have concluded that I must stand opposed to this nomination,'' she said. Abraham said Massiah-Jackson's ``judicial demeanor and courtroom conduct . . . undermines respect for the rule of law and, instead, tends to bring the law into disrepute.''

Massiah-Jackson has declined requests for interviews, saying the U.S. Justice Department asked her not to comment on her nomination or respond to criticism.

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