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.

14 thoughts on “The Pittsburgh Black Lawyers

  1. Robert Mielnicki

    Agreed. All those who walk into a courtroom need, at least, to believe they can be treated fairly.

  2. Kathleen Anne Cribbins

    Well written, Lena, and to the point. I am horrified by Tranquilli’s actions, but not surprised. Sadly, it’s not the first time in this County. I am proud to call so many of the signatories my friends and I pray their call for action works!

  3. Irene D Thomas

    I, too, am an African American attorney and counselor of law in Allegheny county. I join these brave voices.

  4. Randolph A Matuscak

    If Judge Tranquilli were willing to make these remarks openly to two attorneys, what do you suppose he has said about African-Americans in the company of others when not on the bench? What do you suppose he has said about you, as an African-American attorney, behind your back? Might be time for the judge to take up a new line of work.

  5. Stanton Levenson

    Spot on! The obnoxious comments he made permanently disqualify Tranquilli from having the power to pass judgment on others. On the other hand, much thanks and well-earned praise for Joe Otte & Ted Dutkowski. They make us proud!

  6. Simone

    The step these attorneys have taken is phenomenal. This should not be tolerated nor should it be brushed off and taken lightly. It’s time for change and the judicial system apparently needs an overhaul.

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