Lynne Abraham: for better or worse, an institution in Philadelphia

    District Attorney Lynne Abraham is preparing to leave office after nearly two decades as the city’s top prosecutor. Abraham’s been in the spotlight during high profile murder cases, and has drawn heavily on some powers of the office, but not others. Abraham has gained a reputation as a “tough cookie” or a death penalty zealot, depending on who’s talking. In the process she’s shaped the office her successor will step into.

    District Attorney Lynne Abraham is preparing to leave office after nearly two decades as the city’s top prosecutor. Abraham’s been in the spotlight during high profile murder cases, and has drawn heavily on some powers of the office, but not others. Abraham has gained a reputation as a “tough cookie” or a death penalty zealot, depending on who’s talking. In the process she’s shaped the office her successor will step into.

    Transcript:
    When you retire after working at the same place for 18 years, you’ve probably gained a reputation. It’s also likely your colleagues and clients have drawn their own opinons of your personality and work ethic.

    So it’s no surprise that as DA Lynne Abraham prepares to retire, plenty of people have an opinion of her work. In her case though, things are a little extreme.

    Mondesire: “She’s been a blight on the people. The sooner she’s gone, the better.”

    That’s Philadelphia NAACP President Jerome Mondesire. He says Abraham hasn’t fought for all the city’s residents.

    Mondesire: “There was the Gray’s Ferry incident when some white hooligans attacked a black woman down there 10 or 12 years ago. It was only when the community got into outrage that she even bothered to come to the meetings.”

    Mondesire says Abraham portrays herself as a crime fighter, but he says the city’s crime stats tell a different story.

    Opponents of the death penalty also criticize Abraham’s work. A 1995 New York Times article called her the “Deadliest DA,” citing that – quote – “Abraham’s usual practice is unusual in America; no prosecutor in the country uses the death penalty more.”

    University of Pennsylvania Law School professor and civil rights lawyer David Rudovsky says his main criticism of Abraham is the way she views justice.

    Rudovsky: “She and her office has too often displayed an attitude that justice is served when the District Attorney wins. That’s reflected in her too often criticism of judges who rule against her or against police in certain cases.”

    Rudovsky says Abraham’s also been aggressive in pushing state lawmakers to put criminals behind bars longer.

    Rudovsky: “To obtain what I would call in some cases draconian increases in sentencing and in punishment which has led to very, very high incarceration rates both in the city and state that I think is many cases out of proportion with the damage that has been done and the crimes that have been committed.”

    Even with that criticism, Rudovsky says Abraham’s run the office with integrity – free from a whiff of corruption.  And he also commends the D-A’s Victim Services Programs.

    Abraham’s dedication to crime victims is often cited by her supporters. Shirley Boggs is founder of Mothers United Through Tragedy.

    Boggs: “Her working with the Attorney General on the straw purchasing that has been a pet peeve of mine. You know because people have been doing crimes with guns that have been bought by other people and I have always said that they need to be held accountable.”

    Boggs says Abraham deserves the nickname “The Peoples’ DA.” She says when she’s called the DA’s Office, she doesn’t get passed off to an assistant – Abraham takes the call herself. Boggs says she hopes the next DA is as accessible.

    Accessibility, and funding are both issues the next DA will have to address.

    In the last six months Mayor Nutter has announced a total of $7 million in budget cuts to the District Attorney’s Office.

    That means Abraham’s successor may need to do more with less.

    Stalberg: “DA Abraham has had a conventional DA’s view of what the office could do.  Certainly without a real fat budget she’s concentrated on core issues like prosecuting cases.”

    Zack Stalberg is President of the government watchdog group the Committee of 70.

    Stalberg: “My hunch is some of these candidates will put forth new and kind of more creative ideas about how the office should run and the DA’s role in fighting crime.”

    Stalberg says Abraham’s decision to leave public corruption cases to the U.S. Attorney’s Office, could change with a new DA.

    The Candidates are already laying out their visions.  That includes avoiding the death penalty, diverting non-violent offenders to community courts, and alleviating crowded prisons by using Electronic Monitoring Devices.

    As the May 19th primary approaches one thing is certain: for the first time in a long time, Philadelphians will elect a new District Attorney.

    Listen:
    Click on the play button below or right click on this link and choose “Save Target As” to download.

    [audio: reports20090408da.mp3]

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