Black lawyer asks DA Zappala for apology, calls Allegheny Co. courthouse a “sump of white privilege”
Black defense attorney Milton Raiford on Wednesday refused to participate in his client’s trial without a jury until Allegheny County Prosecutor Stephen A. Zappala Jr. meets him, resigns or recedes from all human cases.
A spokesperson for Zappala said the office was aware of Raiford’s comments and had ordered a transcript of the proceedings.
Raiford, who appeared before Common Plea Judge Anthony M. Mariani, holding a Bible and the Pennsylvania Rules of Criminal Procedure, spoke for several minutes Wednesday morning about God, racism, and the need for the justice system to stand up. repentance. His court appearance came a week after the Tribune-Review reported a dispute between Raiford and the prosecutor’s office and Zappala’s orders for lawyers not to enter into plea deals with him.
“God saved me from cronyism and racism,” Raiford said. “This system is systematically racist.
“Stephen Zappala personally threatened me.”
On May 18, Zappala sent an email to his deputy prosecutors barring them from offering any plea deals to Raiford after calling the prosecutor’s office “systematically racist” in proceedings before Mariani five days earlier.
The Tribune-Review reported the existence of this email on June 2, prompting calls for an ethical investigation into Zappala’s actions. During Wednesday’s hearing, Thomas J. Farrell, chief disciplinary counsel for the Pennsylvania Supreme Court Disciplinary Board, was in the courtroom.
Raiford said Zappala’s refusal to offer him plea deals harms not only his individual clients but also his ability to practice law and make a living.
Zappala sent a new policy to his prosecutors on Sunday which the office said rescinds the one against Raiford. However, Raiford said he had not heard from Zappala or received an apology.
Instead, he told Mariani that he had received death threats from strangers.
Raiford has said he will not back down.
He said Zappala should be in court with him.
“He did not repent,” said Raiford.
Mariani told Raiford that he would not arbitrate a dispute between him and Zappala.
For several minutes, Raiford’s comments hovered between God and the criminal justice system.
“There is corruption here,” Raiford said, referring to closed-door meetings between judges and lawyers.
Raiford cited his own experience from 1994 when he pleaded guilty in that same courtroom to obstructing justice – to a crime he committed as a practicing lawyer. Raiford was struck off the bar, but readmitted to practice in 2010. In the meantime, he became pastor and director of the Imani Christian Academy.
Before pleading guilty, Raiford told Mariani that he had been saved by God.
“God called me, claimed me and saved me,” Raiford said.
He told the judge that he too could be saved.
“My personal religious beliefs have no place here,” Mariani replied.
Raiford told Mariani the court had no empathy for the poor and people of color.
“Those of you who are sitting there must come into contact with your own breaking and weakness and have respect for those who come before you who are yourself broken and weak,” said Raiford. “This building is a cesspool of white privilege.”
He told Mariani he is holding young people of color, neighborhoods like Homewood, East Liberty and East Hills, to a level that many cannot reach.
“You hold them at your level of responsibility,” he said.
Throughout the oral argument, the judge repeatedly asked Raiford if he would abide by his oath as a lawyer and represent his client, Vanessa Williams. She was scheduled to appear before a bench on charges of aggravated assault with a vehicle while driving under the influence.
Each time, Raiford said he wouldn’t.
“You ask me to keep an oath that you break every day,” Raiford said. He said he could not operate with a prosecutor who would be “an agent of Stephen Zappala”.
“I’m trying to help you guys clean up. “
The judge replied, “It’s not your job to clean us guys. And I wouldn’t have the audacity to judge if you needed cleaning.
Mariani reiterated her position that Raiford is a good lawyer and advocate. Still, he said, he had no choice but to remove Raiford as Williams’ attorney.
The judge told Williams that Raiford can’t just shut down the system.
“Does he have the right to shut down the cold system and affect your case?” Mariani asked the woman. “No lawyer should be able to do that. No judge should be able to do that.
At one point, when Mariani asked Raiford to reconsider his position, the lawyer replied, “I’m not going to play the game. I’m not going to dance for you.
“I can’t wait for Mr. Raiford and Mr. Zappala to talk to each other,” Mariani said as she removed Raiford from the case. “You signed on, and it meant something to you – more than it seems today.”
“I do what God instructed me to do,” Raiford replied.
“You, sir, renounce your obligation and promise to Ms. Williams,” Mariani said. “You use this as a way to advance your other interests. “