Abraham Blasts Judge's Conduct

Posted: September 10, 1999

The judge called it grandstanding.

District Attorney Lynne Abraham said she "resented" the accusation.

"When the district attorney of Philadelphia has to come over to court for the first time in eight years, it has to be something big," Abraham told Common Pleas Judge Barbara A. Joseph during an unprecedented scathing and wide-ranging attack yesterday.

The spark that set Abraham off occurred when she heard that Joseph had threatened to jail Assistant District Attorney Fern Kletter for contempt of court.

Kletter angered Joseph while arguing against a petition to return about $67 seized from a man awaiting trial in a drug case. She wanted the trial concluded first.

"Get the sheriff and put her in the back," Joseph said.

Kletter remained in court while someone notified her supervisor and then Abraham.

When Joseph later took the bench, she seemed ready to forgive Kletter. She said she was dropping the contempt citation.

But that wasn't good enough for Abraham, a former judge. She asked to speak to Joseph, who once worked as her judicial law clerk. The DA was also angry about Joseph allegedly holding other prosecutors in contempt.

When the DA began ripping Joseph for her threat against Kletter, the judge snapped, "I'm not prepared to listen to anymore of this."

"That is another example of your honor being intemperate and indifferent to lawyers' argument," said Abraham. "That's precisely what a judge should not be. At least give me the courtesy . . . "

"I'll give you the courtesy of speaking to you off the record," said Joseph.

"No, I will not speak to your honor off the record," replied Abraham. "This is too important a matter. I am here representing my attorneys, members of the bar and officers of the court. Your honor's intemperance is demonstrated. You want to cut off my argument."

"Because you're grandstanding," said Joseph, a former assistant district attorney.

When Joseph allowed Abraham to continue, the DA charged her with abusing her discretion and being "rude."

Abraham said Joseph's threat was "wrong, it is unjudicial, it is disrespectful, it is absolutely improper judicial conduct, and frankly, I'm shocked, surprised and actually dumbfounded by your honor's imtemperance."

Abraham accused Joseph of violating the Canons of Ethics in other matters, "both on the bench and in the back room. I give you my absolute word that we will take this further."

"I have bent over backwards to be fair to both sides and I take this as a personal affront," said Joseph.

Abraham then told Joseph that Kletter is going to continue to handle matters in her room, and "she will not be bullied under the threat of any judge."

"You cannot, under any action that I'm aware of, take any DA into custody or threaten them with arrest without a process, without a hearing, without an attorney, and demand that a DA bow to your honor's power . . . " said Abraham.

After the session, Abraham said she might take her complaint against Joseph to the state Supreme Court.

"She's been acting in an inappropriate fashion and we intend to pursue it," added Abraham. She said no judge will be allowed to "treat our lawyers any lesser than any other citizen is entitled to. "

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