When asked about this episode by a stunned Senate Judiciary Committee, Massiah-Jackson first said she did not recall the incident, twice refused to comment, once categorically denied it (despite contemporaneous news accounts), and finally gave a cockamamy account of having been misunderstood.
Only after the undercover officers had submitted statements to the committee describing how Massiah-Jackson had flamboyantly exposed them in open court did the judge begin to recall the incident with greater clarity. In "reconstructing the incident," she said she had been instructing school children present in the courtroom to respect police officers.
The story didn't really hang together because, on account of being undercover and all, undercover officers would not be identifiable to schoolchildren as police officers.
Be that as it may, it turned out Massiah-Jackson had already stated on the record that she was talking to criminal defendants, not any alleged school children in the courtroom. At a later hearing, the D.A. had raised the incident with Massiah-Jackson, and she cavalierly dismissed the D.A.'s outrage, saying: "I do say that to certain defendants."
In another classic Massiah-Jackson moment, Commonwealth vs. Johnson, the judge sentenced the brutal rapist of a 10-year-old girl to the statutory minimum. She apologized to the rapist for even that much time: "I just don't think the five to 10 years is appropriate in this case even assuming you were found guilty." She refused the D.A.'s offer to present a pre-sentence report and victim-impact statement, saying: "What would be the point of that?" (The five-year sentence was not crippling. After his release, the defendant was re-arrested for raping a 9-year-old boy.)
In another special moment for the whole Rainbow Coalition, when Massiah-Jackson was informed that both the defendant and victim in a rape case had AIDS, she said: "Why are we having a trial? We are talking about life expectancy of three years for both of them. What difference? What kind of punishment can we give (the defendant)? ... What's the purpose of the trial long range?"
In light of the fact that Massiah-Jackson had just announced there was no purpose in trying the defendant, the prosecutor requested that the judge recuse herself. She refused, and the victim died while the recusal motion was on appeal. The trial proceeded before Massiah-Jackson, who sentenced the defendant to one year of probation, allowing him to serve no time for a vicious rape and beating. ("What's the purpose?")
Sentencing a defendant who had slashed a woman in the face with a straight razor while stealing her purse, Massiah-Jackson refused to apply a sentence enhancement for use of a deadly weapon. When the D.A. noted that the enhancement was required, the centrist judge accused her of being "vindictive." Massiah-Jackson was reversed on appeal for ignoring the enhancement.
Indeed, Massiah-Jackson was reversed in a number of criminal cases. But in response to the Judiciary Committee request that she provide a list of her reversals -- a pro forma request -- she repeatedly claimed she had not been reversed in a single criminal case.
After having been caught in this and other lies, "centrist" Massiah-Jackson decided to withdraw her nomination. The New York Times was in a high dudgeon. Not because Massiah-Jackson had sneered at AIDS victims and rape victims, shouted obscenities from the bench or outed undercover cops, but because of the "judicial mugging" the Senate had put her through. The judge at least would return to the state bench "with her honor intact," the Times editorialized. "Unfortunately, the same cannot be said of the Senate."
Indeed, even after all this came out about Massiah-Jackson (despite the encumbrance of the judge's tendency to lie), she was avidly supported for a life-tenured federal judgeship by: The New York Times, top Philadelphia law firms, judges, Philadelphia Mayor Edward G. Rendell, the NAACP, the Barristers' Association of Philadelphia Inc., the Hispanic Bar Association, the Asian American Bar Association of the Delaware Valley and -- surprise -- the Philadelphia Bar Association.
When Bush's judicial nominees come under attack from the same groups for failing to be duly "centrist," remember what they mean by that.
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