Wednesday, April 06, 2005

The Surreal Life: Now Starring Lynne Abraham

"Damn it Jim, I'm a Doctor not a bricklayer." -Dr. "Bones" McCoy, Star Trek.

This is really one of the more bizarre articles that I have read for a while. Some of the quotes from our esteemed D.A. are so out there, as to be, surreal.

OK, so, the Seth Williams campaign got a hold of the sheet that each D.A. uses at the end of the day that tallies their daily statistics. He then sent it to the press. Why? Because, as the article says, Lynne Abraham has consistently said that her department does not keep statistics.

From the article:
Williams received the form from someone inside the district attorney's office who supports his run for district attorney over that of incumbent Lynne Abraham. The form is to be filled out by assistant district attorneys at the end of each workday, presumably to better keep track of courtroom stats in more than 20 categories.

How many trials took place that day?

How many verdicts? Guilty? Not guilty?

How many pleas were entered?

How many complainants, defendants and police officers failed to honor their subpoenas?

As government documents go, this one won't be confused with the Pentagon Papers. But it's more interesting than it first appears. Any media member who's requested statistics from DA Lynne Abraham has heard the refrain: "We don't keep statistics."

"They do keep statistics," says Williams. "Assistant district attorneys fill out this form every day. They don't release the statistics publicly because they aren't flattering."
OK, so, she is either lying, or, has one of most bizarre philosophies in running a large department that I have ever heard.

Consider this gem:
"The voters of Philadelphia did not elect a statistician," says Eleanor Dezzi, Abraham's reelection campaign director. "They elected a DA."

Dezzi says the form Williams gave PW represents numbers crunching done by one chief in one unit. There are, for instance, 11 different units in the office's trial division alone. "What's needed," says Dezzi, "is a system-wide method of gathering numbers."

The problem, she says, is that the expense of crunching numbers from tens of thousands of cases is prohibitive. More important, such an undertaking would run counter to Abraham's philosophy.

"She believes you look at each case on its own merits and in its own circumstances," says Dezzi. "Not all cases are the same, so it's difficult to make sense of them through numbers. Look at it this way: If every case were the same, there would have been only one episode of Law & Order."
Say what? No, really, say what? Imagine if poor ol' Sylvester Johnson had said, I cannot tell you how many rapes there were in Philadelphia last year. You didn't elect me to be a statistician dammit!

The article also questions whether Williams' assertion that 40 percent of Philly cases being dismissed is entirely fair, because that may partially be the DA's letting a merit-less case go. However, if this is true, this is more ammo for Williams' assertion that we need DA's out at detective units 24/7, where they can make those decisions on the spot, better informed, rather than going through the undoubtedly expensive process of scheduling, delaying, and dismissing cases at the last second. And, of course, if Abraham released the statistics, maybe she could further refute that. But, oops!, she doesn't keep them. Shucks!

One of the best ways to push back against reform is to refuse the collection of data. That is why, for example, there was an amendment proposed in California that would have banned the state from collecting any data on race. How can you prove the need for affirmative action when you have no statistics to back it up?

Abraham seems to be getting testier and testier lately. I think this is because rather than attacking her as a racist, as previous challenger and bomb thrower Alex Talmadge did, Williams is attacking her for her competency. And he is doing it from the position of someone who knows what he is talking about, and with good ideas of how to immediately fix things. He isn't saying she is a bad person, he is saying she is a bad District Attorney. That is not so easily dismissed, even by her supporters.

Apparently, Abraham is now discussing implementing community prosecution. Hmmm, I wonder where she got that idea. Sorry Ms. Abraham, you had over a decade to do that. It is time for a new D.A., with real reform in mind.


At 1:25 AM, Blogger Charles said...

I am assuming that you are talking about the Philadelphia Weekly article? Seth talked about that tonight at the meetup. He brang his A game, as usual. I’ll tell you, if it were up to us dedicated progressives, he would be in. But it isn’t always that easy. We all have to dream though, don’t we?


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