BY WILL BUNCH - DAILY NEWS
Lynne Abraham, Philadelphia's long-serving former district attorney , has been accused of a lot of things over the years — but never a lack of chutzpah.
Like the horror-movie villain who just keeps coming back, Abraham popped back up with a sudden jolt on the front page of both the Daily News and the Inquirer on Tuesday — presenting herself as the moral conscience of the city by suing her disgraced, indicted successor, Seth Williams, in a bid to force him to resign immediately. ...
All of this matters — a lot — because Philadelphia voters are going to the polls next month in a Democratic primary that will be critical for picking Williams' successor. Almost all of the candidates want to swing the pendulum away from the "convictions at any cost" culture that permeated the Abraham years, and surely no one want to bring back such zealous pursuit of the death penalty. That's all good, but the raft of questionable convictions from the past presents a challenge for any future DA.
Last week, after I wrote about Lowenstein's Ogrod book, one of those candidates — the civil rights lawyer Lawrence Krasner — issued a statement in which he said "it is clear that for decades the practice and policy of the District Attorney’s Office has been to win convictions at any cost, too often at the cost of justice itself." He called for a number of concrete steps including the courtroom use of confessions only if they are videotaped, an end to the death penalty, and refusing to prosecute cases when the evidence developed by police is clearly lacking.
In addition, I'd argue that a highly aggressive effort must be launched by the new DA to re-examine all of the dubious conviction of the last three decades — much as police and prosecutors now continue to press "cold case" murders from that same era. The speedy resignation of Seth Williams would be a step toward cleaning up Philadelphia, but making sure there are no more Anthony Wrights would be a much bigger step. Seth Williams AND Lynne Abraham (and the Wonderful Mr. Sprague) need to cede the stage to a new generation, committed to a just Philadelphia.