will the upper court react?
What will the people do in reaction to Judge Yohn's denial of
the Amicus briefs?
of legal terms: AMICUS CURIAE, AMICI, AMICUS, and BRIEFS:
In Latin, "amicus" means friend and "curiae" means court, "amici"
means friends. "Brief" means a legal statement prepared by a
lawyer arguing a case in court. Black's Legal Dictionary defines
amicus curiae: "A person with a strong interest in or views
on the subject matter of an action may petition the court for
permission to file a brief ostensibly on behalf of a party,
but actually to suggest a rationale consistent with its own
amicus curiae briefs are commonly filed in appeals concerning
matters of broad public interest; e.g. civil rights cases".
According to Webster's Dictionary, discretion means: "the
quality of being discreet, being careful about what one does
and says." Black's Law Dictionary defines the word discretion
as it is used in a legal context: Judicial and legal discretion:
"These terms are applied to the discretionary action of a judge
or court and mean discretion bounded by rules and principles
of law, and not arbitrary and capricious, or unrestrained.
is not the indulgence of a judicial whim, but the exercise of
judicial judgment, based on facts and guided by law, or in the
equitable decision of what is just and proper under the circumstances.
It is a legal discretion to be exercised in discerning the course
prescribed by law and is not to give effect to the will of the
judge, but of the law. The exercise of discretion where there
are two alternative provisions of law applicable, under either
of which court could proceed. A liberty or privilege to decide
and act in accordance with what is fair and equitable under
the peculiar circumstances of the particular case, guided by
the spirit and principles of the law."
OF DISCRETION: Blackšs Law Dictionary also defines abuse
of discretion: "A discretion exercised to an end or purpose
not justified by and clearly against reason and evidence. Unreasonable
departure from considered precedents and settled judicial custom,
constituting error of law."
In a decision without basis in court precedent, Judge William
H. Yohn denied all four Amicus (see "amicus" at top) briefs
filed in support of Mumia. These legal briefs supplement,
in detail, legal issues crucial to Mumia's pending petition
for Writ of Habeas Corpus and go right to heart of why Mumia
should be released or at the very least, granted a new trial.
facts addressed, and the law applied illuminate those found
in the Petition for Writ of Habeas Corpus. The amici who have
submitted briefs in the case of Mumia Abu-Jamal serve in the
classical role of amici supplementing the Petition of Habeas
Corpus by highlighting specific constitutional violations and
applying law which demonstrates, from a perspective unique in
these proceedings, that the structural defects in the trial
mandate a vacating of the death sentence, a reversal of Petitioneršs
conviction, and his immediate release.
denial of the amici leave to file their briefs, was an abuse
of discretion by Judge Yohn. The cases Judge Yohn cited
himself are devoid of support for his decision. Judges usually
cite (identify as legal precedent or discuss) cases in which
other judges have come to similar conclusions on a similar set
of facts and support the position a judge is taking. When a
judge is making a decision that is a severe departure from legal
precedent, it may be "difficult" for a judge to find cases that
actually support his position, and this may indicate of abuse
is abuse of discretion? (read "discretion" and "abuse of
discretion" at top) Many try to obscure the simplicity of discretion
in the legal realm to make it seem like the person has more
power according to the law than he/she really does. Legal precedents
establish criteria within which the court can exercise its discretion.
On the subject of granting leave to file amicus briefs the criteria
are well settled law. A judge can abuse the use of discretion
by failing to follow well-settled principles and precedents.
excuse that the Judge offers for his denial of the amicus briefs,
is that they are unhelpful. Not because he has found them without
merit. Judge Yohn states: "I do not question the professional
skill possessed by counsel for all amici groups. Nothing in
this memorandum or the attached order is intended to reflect
on the merits of the proposed amici filings or of petitioner's
Judge Yohn openly refused to examine the briefs on their merits,
he broke with court precedent. It is a court's duty to examine
each amicus brief on its merits (advances the understanding
of the issues before the court or adds something to the case).
It is an abuse of discretion to refuse to evaluate the briefs
on their merits. The court's duty to do so is dictated by
CLEAR LEGAL PRECENDENT. Each of the cases that Judge Yohn
cited explain this precedent, yet he does not adhere to it.
The Judge did not make a claim of lack of merit in the case
of the amici who probe the very heart of Mumiašs case.
Yohn cites cases that do not support his claim on the issue
of denial based on adequate representation. The Judge says,
"First, I find that additional filings by amici in this matter
are not necessary because the petitioner is adequately
represented." The Judge cites two United States District Court
of the Eastern District of Pennsylvania cases for the foregoing
proposition, Sciotto and Goldberg. Both cases
cite Liberty Lincoln Mercury. But the Liberty Lincoln
Mercury case DOESN'T SAY that amicus briefs were
not necessary because a petitioner is adequately represented.
If this were a rule and was applied, amici would become the
self-appointed paramedics of the legal profession, being granted
leave to file only where the court determined that counsel was
ineffective. This would be a most unfortunate reflection on
the profession in general and the existing counsel in particular.
Both parties to the controversy would inevitably be hostile
to the "amici." All this hostility would negate any possible
advantage to the court and cast a pall rather than a light on
proceedings of significant public interest.
Liberty Lincoln Mercury court actually states, "When
a court determines the parties are adequately represented and
participation of a potential amicus curiae is unnecessary because
it will not further aid in the consideration of the relevant
issue leave to appear has been denied." (Emphasis added) Contrary
to Judge Yohnšs stated Opinion, it is clear, that the Liberty
Lincoln Mercury court's decision is not dependent on a finding
of inadequate representation, but rather the determining factor
in its denial of the amici is that the amici did "Not further
aid in the consideration of a relevant issue."
Yohn cites Waste Management v. Pennsylvania on the specific
issue of whether amicus briefs are timely. Would anyone guess
after reading his Opinion that the Waste Management court
welcomed the amici, the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA),
and ignored the fact that the amici submitted their brief 2
1/2 years after the case started? The Waste Management court
explained, "that the concept of amicus curiae is flexible and
that, as long as the amicus does not intrude on the rights of
the parties, it can have a range of roles; from a passive one
of providing information to a more active participatory one."
Judge Yohn cites no support for his claim that issues can
be rejected irrespective of their merits because of the burden
of their procedural complexity. The Judge doesn't cite a single
case to support such a thing. He doesn't and he can't.
Yohn is a U.S. District Court Judge. In U.S. District Courts
the Federal Rules of Civil Procedure apply. There is NO RULE
in the Federal Rules of Civil Procedure about amici, so naturally
none of the six U.S. District Court cases that are cited by
Judge Yohn consider the amount of pages there is in a amicus
brief or the date an amicus brief was submitted, as being controlled
by a rule. The U.S. District court cases donšt mention any rule
because there is none. The court, therefore, RELIES ON LEGAL
PRECEDENT. The fact that there is an Appellate Rule for
Appeals Court which limits pages and the time allowed for submitting
briefs, has no place in the considerations of a U.S. District
of these facts make it particularly stunning that a U.S. District
Judge, would choose to state in his conclusion, as Judge Yohn
did: "Finally under the relevant appellate rule each brief would
be excessive in length and untimely, therefore the petitions
of amici will be denied as unnecessary and unhelpful." (Emphasis
added) Appellate Rules are exclusively for Appeals Courts and
the Appellate rules state, specifically, that they can only
be applied in Appeals Courts. Presumably, if the U.S. Supreme
Court wanted to make a rule limiting amici in U.S. District
Courts, it would certainly do so because the U.S. Supreme Court
makes changes in the rules all of the time.
Judge Yohn says that he is denying all the amicus briefs because
he is fearful that, because of the worldwide interest, he will
be buried under an avalanche of amici if he opens the door.
of Mumia Abu-Jamal would be justified, frankly, to be alerted
by Judge Yohn's attempt to rationalize his "slam shut the courtroom
door policy" by feigning the need for self-protection against
"world wide interest in this case." A more temperate, reasoned
approach in furtherance of the appearance of justice might be
expected since the Judge admits that he is cognizant of the
fact that the world is watching. It is important to understand
that there is a contradiction inherent to Judge Yohn's determination
that he is going to deny the amicus briefs, specifically, because
there is world-wide interest.
Judge's statement is extraordinary in light of the fact that
it is almost exclusively in cases of significant public interest
that amici ask and are granted leave to file amicus briefs.
(Please refer to the definition of "amicus curiae" at top.)
The extent of the public's interest is actually one of the determining
factors the courts regularly use in their consideration of whether
amici would be beneficial.
of the cases that the Judge uses in his attempt to support his
decision are about a person in prison. The Judge cites cases
about money, cars, turtles, trusts, and liability. Should it
matter? Is there any question in anybody's mind that Judge Yohn
should not be able to deny the paltry courtesy of evaluating
briefs that raise and resolve critical issues in a case of life
and of death?
Fifth Circuit Court of Appeals took a rather different view
on the issue of an amicus brief when it had before it the case
of Stephens v. Zant 631 F. 2d 397, 406-407 (5th Cir.
1980). (No capital case was even mentioned by Judge Yohn. Stephens
v. Zant is only mentioned here for purposes of comparison)
Fifth Circuit Court of Appeals looked to the merits of the issues
in Stephens v. Zant, and when it reversed and remanded
(sent it back to the district court), it ordered the District
Court to take appropriate action on three issues which were
being raised by amici for the very first time in a brief filed
in the Court of Appeals. The court expressed concern that the
issues "may be related to the murder conviction." As the issues
were being raised for the first time on appeal from the District
Court it was inevitable that the three issues involved would
raise questions of complex procedural issues on remand, but
that did not deter the Stephens court from ordering the District
Court to consider the issues raised by the amici.
the NAACP Legal Defense and Educational Fund is the amici in
the brief in the Stephens case and is also one of the amici
denied by Judge Yohn in Mumiašs case.) For the Fifth Circuit
Court of Appeal in the case of Stephens v. Zant, it was the
donut, not the hole. JUSTICE, NOT CONVENIENCE.
Judge Yohn in the last words of his Opinion claims an "absence
of prejudice resulting from a denial of permission for amici
to file a memorandum of law." He claims that it is in the Petitioneršs
interest to deny the briefs. While undoubtedly the Petitioner
would not be ungrateful for any solicitude on the part of the
court, its concern in this instance that "delay occasioned by
substantial additional filings will work to the detriment of
the petitioner" is without foundation, as it would have been
in Stephens v. Zant, also a capital case. Faced with
death, delay is rarely a primary source of disturbance to the
Judge Yohn exercise his discretion or abuse it when he denied
the amicus briefs? This is the critical question. The answer
has many and serious ramifications for us all and for Mumia's
situation in particular.
Pam Africa, International Concerned Family & Friends of Mumia
Philadelphia., PA 19143 firstname.lastname@example.org