The PBLA Statement regarding Allegheny County District Attorney- Steven Zappala

The Pittsburgh Black Lawyers Alliance is aware of allegations that Allegheny County District Attorney Steven Zappala instructed his staff to refuse to offer plea deals to clients of Attorney Milton Raiford after Raiford publicly raised the issue of systemic racism within the Allegheny County criminal justice system. 

We believe Zappala’s specific written instructions to his staff to deny plea deals to Raiford’s clients were designed to target, penalize and humiliate Raiford for addressing the systemic racism within the District Attorney’s Office. Zappala’s use of his position and power to deny due process to Raiford’s clients perpetuates the systemic inequality and racism that Raiford called to eradicate and demonstrates that under Zappala’s watch, people get the process that Zappala believes they are due, and not the due process required and guaranteed by our Constitution.

These statements or instructions, if true, violate his oath as an Attorney and as the District Attorney, and render him unfit to serve as an elected official or as a member of the Pennsylvania Bar. Zappala’s actions are proof that he has unethically violated his duty to treat everyone who has been charged with a crime in Allegheny County fairly and equally as dictated by law. It is an egregious and arbitrary disregard of the foundation of our judicial system, and for the people he took an oath to serve.

We further contend that the appropriate entity should immediately conduct a full and fair investigation of the District Attorney’s Office regarding this clear abuse of power. If these allegations are true, the Pittsburgh Black Lawyers Alliance demands that Stephen Zappala immediately resign from the Office of the District Attorney of Allegheny County. 

Statement from The PBLA regarding “the apology” from Mark Tranquilli

Mark Tranquilli’s alleged actions were inexcusable, so it is disheartening to see his letter making excuses for his behavior.  We see this statement as further proof that he is not fit to be a judge.

As a judge he is held to a higher standard. A busy schedule does not diminish his responsibility or his behavior.  

While he gave a cursory acknowledgement of the pain he’s caused, he does not seem to fully appreciate the damage his statements from his position of power have on the black community.  It is inconceivable that he believes there is a justification for his words and actions in this context.

As a criminal court judge, he holds one of the foundations of our democracy—a person’s liberty—in his hands.  His alleged conduct as detailed in the complaint demonstrate an unacceptable bias. His words in his letter of “apology” do not demonstrate an appreciation of that bias nor the harm his conduct has caused.  His statement is self-serving, disrespectful and offensive.

In the end, this statement is further proof of his poor temperament, lack of awareness and his demonstrated inability to be a fair and impartial judge to all citizens of Allegheny County.

The Pittsburgh Black Lawyers

For Immediate Release – February 14, 2020 – Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania Contact: Lena Bryan-Henderson, Esq. 412-656-8250

It is with a heartfelt dedication to the oath we have taken as Counselors of Law, members of the Bar of the Commonwealth of Pennsylvania, and proud recipients of the traditions of African American jurists and lawyers of times past, that we raise our joint voices to condemn the alleged comments made by Allegheny County Court of Common Pleas Judge Mark V. Tranquilli. 

A fundamental principle of American Jurisprudence, and a Constitutionally protected right, is that a person arrested and accused of a crime is entitled to a jury of their peers. American history has forever linked the right to vote with the civic duty of sitting on a jury. Voting and taxpayer rolls are among the lists used to call citizens to serve in a jury pool. African Americans have historically been subject to efforts of disenfranchisement, which is the denial of their right to vote and subsequently, the denial of their right to serve on a jury. Women, particularly black women, likewise have been relegated historically to second-class citizenship by being denied the right to vote.

Right here in Allegheny County, African Americans have been subjected to patterns and practices during jury selection, solely to preclude them from sitting on the jury of an African American defendant. This dark history is what makes Judge Tranquilli’s alleged actions so heinous. It strikes at the very core of the Equal Protection Clause of our state and federal constitutions. It undermines the purpose of our system of “justice for all.” It contradicts the words of our enlightened constitution, which states that all men are created equal.

The allegation that Judge Tranquilli suggested that Assistant District Attorney Ted Dutkowski should have exercised a peremptory strike to deny Juror #4, an African American woman, the right to sit in judgment as a juror in this case is worse than any crime for which the accused was standing trial. Judge Tranquilli’s alleged comments and behavior unearth our worst inclinations and casts a dark cloud over the legacies of African American judges like the Honorable Homer S. Brown, Thomas Harper, Henry R. Smith, Walter Little and many of our white brothers and sisters who stood with them to ensure fairness and equity for all in the hallowed halls of our state courts in Allegheny County.

Judge Tranquilli’s alleged comments reflect a hardness of heart that causes one to question his past conduct as a prosecutor. Further, if proven true, evidences a blatant disregard for human decency and integrity in exchange for procuring a conviction at all costs.

The actions of Attorney Joe Otte, and Assistant Prosecutor Ted Dutkowski, represent the standard of professional conduct expected of us as sworn officers of the Court. We commend these two attorneys for upholding the high standards in the face of the alleged actions of Judge Tranquilli. We pray that Juror #4, and all the other jurors, who were subjected to this alleged diatribe by Judge Tranquilli will not be forever scarred by his bias.

To address all of the aforementioned problems, we strongly urge the following:

First, that the Judicial Conduct Board conduct a thorough, just, and timely investigation of the allegations and promptly refer the matter to the Court of Judicial Discipline for the removal of Judge Mark V. Tranquilli from serving as a judicial officer in the Commonwealth of Pennsylvania;

Second, that the Allegheny County District Attorney’s Office review every case prosecuted by Judge Mark V. Tranquilli, paying specific attention to his jury selection practices;

Third, to the extent that it is allowable, that the Allegheny County Court of Common Pleas Judges issue a statement renouncing the alleged conduct of Judge Mark V. Tranquilli and reassuring the public that they can have confidence in the Court; and

Fourth, any attorneys who have experienced similar issues should report this to the Judicial Conduct Board by filing a complaint and providing transcripts and other relevant evidence.

The following are the attorneys in agreement and accord with the within Statement:

Bryan C. Brantley, Esq.

Anthony J. Christmas, Esq.

Verdell Dean, Esq.

Paul A. Ellis Jr., Esq.

Elbert Gray Jr.

Lena Bryan Henderson, Esq.

Milton Raiford, Esq.

Angela Hayden, Esq.

Amanda Green-Hawkins, Esq.

Turahn L. Jenkins, Esq.

R. Blaine Jones, II, Esq.

Jennifer Kavelle Lattaker, Esq.

Joseph Macklin, II, Esq.

Randall H. McKinney, Esq.

Rhonda Anderson Marks, Esq.

Frank B. McWilson, Esq.

Kelvin Morris, Esq.

Amber Owens, Esq.

Albert G. Reese, Jr., Esq.

Dana J. Richardson, Esq.

Franklin Robinson Esq.

Ernest H. Sharif, Esq.

Nicola Henry-Taylor, Esq.

Frank C. Walker II,  Esq.

PBLA Announces Judicial Forums for the 2021 Election

For Immediate Release – Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania, March 1, 2021 – The Pittsburgh Black Lawyers Alliance announce dates for their open candidate forums for those seeking a position as Judge for the Allegheny County Court of Common Pleas and Allegheny County Magisterial District Judge. 


All forums will be held at 4:00pm EST via Zoom video conferencing, will be recorded and open to the public.

March 27, 2021 – 4:00pm via Zoom Video Conferencing

May 8, 2021 – 4:00pm via Zoom Video Conferencing

August 14, 2021 – 4:00pm via Zoom Video Conferencing

October 23, 2021 – 4:00pm via Zoom Video Conferencing

How to Register

The recording of each forum will be available on immediately following each forum. To reserve a spot for each forum, please send an email to requesting a slot. The order of the candidates for the forum will be “first come, first served” based on your reservation. Once your request is received, we will send a confirmation email with the format and link. 

According to Attorney Frank Walker II, who serves as President of the organization, “This election is too important for the voting public to be uninformed and simple vote the name they see or hear the most during the campaign. We need to elect qualified candidates to the bench and the only way we can accomplish this goal is to have educated voters who hear from the candidates.” Vice-President Lena Henderson contends that, “[w]e finally have the opportunity to have a bench that is truly representative of our communities instead of having merely one Judge of color and calling it diversity.”

This year, there are 9 available positions for the Allegheny County Court of Common Pleas and many contested races for Magisterial District Judge. 

Confirmed Guests (update 3/26/21)

Order of Confirmed Speakers as of 3-22-21

  1. Lisa Middleman
  2. Raymond Robinson
  3. Nicole Henry-Taylor
  4. Jimmy Sheets
  5. Zeke Rediker
  6. Pat Sweeney
  7. Giuseppe Rosselli
  8. Chuck Porter
  9. Beth Tarasi Sinatra
  10. Judge Bruce Beemer
  11. Albert Ververka
  12. Wrenna Watson
  13. Judge Mik Pappas
  14. Judge Elliot Howsie
  15. Judge Tom Caulfield
  16. Judge Scott Schricker
  17. Demetrius Baldwin
  18. Leah Duncan
  19. Jessel Costa
  20. George Heym
  21. Dan Koniecka
  22. Amanda Green-Hawkins
  23. Tiffany Sizemore
  24. Rosemary Crawford 
  25. Judge David Spurgeon
  26. Sabrina Korbel
  27. Marc Daffner
  28. Judge Maria Mclaughlin
  29. Jessica Lynch
  30. Alyssa Cowan
  31. Tayveon K. Smith
  32. Brian Malkin
  33. Judge Sierra Thomas Street
  34. Richard Ernsberger
  35. Judge Armand Martin
  36. Illan Zur
  37. Jill Beck
  38. Jason Cervone
  39. Chelsa Wagner
  40. Bryan Neft
  41. Judge Timika Lane
  42. Matt Rogers
  43. Pauline Calabrese

Forum Registration (LIMIT 500)

You are invited to a Zoom meeting.
When: Mar 27, 2021 03:30 PM Eastern Time (US and Canada)

Register in advance for this meeting:

After registering, you will receive a confirmation email containing information about joining the meeting.

About the PBLA

The Pittsburgh Black Lawyers Alliance was established in 2020 with the purpose of eliminating  racism within the judicial system by advocating for criminal justice reform, engaging in community activism, forming strategic partnerships, and championing diversity in all levels of government. The PBLA is a charitable organization within the meaning of Section 501(c)(3) of the Internal Revenue Code. 

Officers: President – Frank Walker II, Vice President – Lena Henderson, Treasurer – Paul Ellis, Secretary – Amber Owens 


Black Lives Matter.

For Immediate Release – June 17, 2020 – Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania Contact: Lena Bryan-Henderson, Esq. 412-656-8250

Black Lives Matter
Breonna Taylor, Ahmaud Arbery, George Floyd

The Pittsburgh Black Attorney Alliance (PBLA) condemns all police brutality. PBLA especially condemns the use of unjustified deadly force against black men and women. We are traumatized when we see the murder of George Floyd–and countless others– because we see ourselves in these victims.

We recognize that but for the grace of God it could be one of us– or our sisters, brothers, fathers or children– being suffocated to death by law enforcement. It is unfathomable how quickly a routine traffic stop or investigation into a petty crime can turn deadly for black citizens.

We can no longer be complicit or silent about the systematic racism within our criminal justice system. Enough is enough. Whether implicit or explicit, we must, as a society, address the biases that contribute to the inequities within our judicial system. We recognize that racism is inherent in our legal system dating back to its inception, but we believe that we can fight together to effectuate change.

Civil rights protests resulted in Supreme Court cases and legislation that ended racial discrimination in many aspects of life including education, employment, housing, public accommodations, voting and marriage. We believe that this is a similar turning point for criminal justice reform. It is imperative that the United States address the racial discrimination in all aspects of our criminal justice system.

Sadly, our country finds itself, as a nation, in painful crisis without an adequate leader. In the absence of real leadership, we must all be leaders and stand up for change. We call on law enforcement and the courts to acknowledge and address racial profiling and biases in decision making.

Additionally, state and Federal legislators must take action by enacting the following policies into law:

1. Mandatory body cams with cloud based backup for every officer on the street;
2. Ending Qualified Immunity for officers; and
3. Rejecting racial profiling policies that unfairly target black people.

Finally, police leadership can do their part by implementing the following practices and policies:

Increasing diversity among the ranks and leadership of their departments.;
Reforming department reasonable force policies; and
Focusing on community-oriented policing.