Thursday, October 7, 2010

Judge Accuses DA of Racism

An Allegheny County, Pennsylvania judge challenged a plea offer made by an assistant district attorney-based on his observations of race. He didn't rely on research or an academic study-he relied on anecdotal information about a specific attorney in a specific courtroom.

The Pittsburgh Tribune-Review reported that African-American Common Pleas Judge Joseph K. Williams rejected a deal to allow a white defendant -- Jeffery McGowan, 24, of Franklin Park -- to get three months of probation for an incident in which he is accused of trying to fight with police after a traffic stop.

"(Assistant District Attorney Brian) Catanzarite for some reason comes up with I think ridiculous pleas whenever it's a young white guy," Williams said in open court. "I'm just telling you what my observation is. If this had been a black kid who did the same thing, we wouldn't be talking about three months' probation," reported the Tribune-Review.

Catanzarite explained that he didn't negotiate the plea deal and that he was standing in for another prosecutor, Courtney Butterfield, who negotiated the case.

"Now that the court has essentially called me a racist, I think that's unfair. I don't make offers based on race. I make offers based on facts," Catanzarite said.

Judge Williams was obviously shooting from the hip, without any supporting data, when he accussed Catanzarite of racism. Judges shouldn't shoot from the hip.

The judge did not know the facts before he made the accusation--Catanzarite did not negotiate the plea. This is a question of judicial temperment and judgment. A judge who jumps to conclusions without knowing the facts or having any real evidence to support his conclusion is a threat to justice in Allegheny County.

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