legal team and the attorneys for the state of Pennsylvania were asked to a
meeting this past Tuesday morning with federal judge William Yohn in his
chambers to "get acquainted." This was expected and is usually the way
a major case like this begins.
they arrived at 9:30 a.m. on Tuesday, they were conducted into the courtroom
where Judge Yohn took the bench and went on the record. This was totally
unexpected since the defense team had not even filed the necessary papers to
allow them to appear in the federal district court for Eastern Pennsylvania
(they are from another federal court district).
was no one else present in the courtroom except a Philadelphia Inquirer court
reporter. This is when Judge Yohn announced that he was granting the stay of
execution, although he did not sign it on the spot. [A number of people have
asked if the stay is "permanent" or "temporary." Such a stay
is a temporary order, preventing the execution until the judge can consider the
petition to have Mumia’s original conviction overturned. Once the case is ruled
on by the judge, the stay will be "vacated" (ended)].
judge asked where the trial record was, and the state said that they would bring
it in for him.
the petition submitted by Mumia’s lawyers on October 16 contained only the
arguments regarding facts, the judge ordered them to submit a memorandum of law
citing the relevant legal precedents for the requests they have made in their
petition for a writ of habeas corpus. This is to be submitted by December 7.
state then asked for 90 days to respond, but the judge gave them only 60 days to
submit a reply (which would be by February 11). Then Len Weinglass asked for 30
days to file a short rejoined to the state’s reply, and he was given 20 days and
a limit of 20 pages (this would be due on March 2).
the judge gets all these papers, he will then set a date for the first major
court appearance, at which time Mumia will be present. Thus Mumia’s first court
appearance could be in early March, but could be later depending on the judge’s
calendar and case load.
raised the issues of discovery (an order from the court to the state to produce
key documents) and an evidentiary hearing (where witnesses would be questioned).
The judge indicated that the 1996 Effective Death Penalty Act made an
evidentiary hearing unlikely, but he told Weinglass to put his argument for such
a hearing in his Dec. 7 filing. In response to the judge’s questions, Weinglass
indicated that were 10 to 15 (of the 29 issues raised) on which he would like to
present evidence, and he thought it would take two or three weeks to do so. (If
the judge denies an evidentiary hearing, he will be in the position of
condemning Mumia without even hearing from him.)
Judge Yohn rules of some of the procedural points (perhaps in March), such as
discovery and an evidentiary hearing, there is expected to be another round of
legal briefs, followed by oral arguments.
other issues came up. First, the judge asked if Mumia’s attorneys were aware
that the state could "depose" Mumia. (They did know this.) Since a
petition of habeas corpus is a civil action, the "respondents" (those
named in Mumia’s petition as holding him illegally) are allowed to take a
deposition, that is, question Mumia under oath. (Mumia can have his attorneys
present if this happens.)
judge indicated that Mumia will be present for all hearings in his court, and he
asked Mumia’s attorneys if they had any concern about Mumia’s safety. Weinglass
raised the issue that Sabo had allowed large numbers of armed police in the
courtroom. Judge Yohn said that there would be no armed cops as spectators in
judge also brought up the issue of the letters he has been receiving. Weinglass
asked if he had been receiving mail from both sides, and he replied "No,
only for a new trial." He indicated that he didn’t think it would be
correct for him to read them, and asked if Weinglass would accept them (which he
agreed to do). Later the judge mentioned that he had received a very few letters
opposing a new trial, and he would give these to the state.
has already received over 500 letters directly from the public, and he indicates
that some of them are very moving and should be printed.
cannot draw any definitive conclusions about this judge from this one short
encounter. A great range of this possibilities exist, from a worst case scenario
of no evidentiary hearing and a quick summary judgment against Mumia; to a
hearing with unknown results; to a summary judgment (without a hearing) in
main thing we learned was the schedule of events for the next few months. This
does not mean that people can now "relax." We are now on the federal
fast track, and every day counts in building the movement to save and win a new
trial for Mumia Abu-Jamal.