Over 60 judicial misconduct complaints filed against Judge Anthony Mariani as ALC releases report detailing Mariani’s abusive, racist behavior and roles of Pittsburgh policing, probation, and punishment systems in death of Gerald Thomas
CONTACT: Dolly Prabhu, ALC Staff Attorney, email@example.com
William Lukas, ALC Dir. of Communications, firstname.lastname@example.org
Joshua Palmer, ALC Court Watch Volunteer Coordinator, email@example.com
FOR IMMEDIATE RELEASE – JULY 5, 2022
PITTSBURGH – The Abolitionist Law Center has published a new report, ‘Death-Making Institutions’: How Police, Probation and the Judiciary Caused Gerald Thomas to Die in Jail.’ In addition to the report, the law firm’s court watching program announced it has filed 62 judicial misconduct complaints against Judge Anthony Mariani of the Allegheny County Court of Common Pleas.
The 48-page report authored by ALC Staff Attorney Dolly Prabhu connects the death of 26 year-old Gerald Thomas to the racialized violence of Allegheny County institutions and state actors, “Pittsburgh City Police, County Probation, County Courts, and the County Jail all contributed to the manner of Mr. Thomas’s death. At each phase, racism likely played a role in Mr. Thomas’s arrest and continued detention. And, at each phase, common sense reforms could have prevented his needless incarceration and perhaps even his death.”
Prabhu examines how instruments of policing and punishment including pretextual traffic stops and pretrial detention, and the use of probation detainers and solitary confinement, support the maintenance of local “death-making institutions,” a term coined by abolitionist Mariame Kaba.
According to the report, Black people made up 23% of the Pittsburgh population in 2019, yet accounted for 63% of all arrests carried out by the Pittsburgh Police. Roughly 38% of the Allegheny County Jail (ACJ) population currently has a county probation detainer lodged against them, while only 6% of all individuals held at ACJ are actually serving a sentence for a crime committed (the rest are awaiting trial or some other proceeding). Since March 2020, at least 14 people have died at ACJ. The warden of ACJ, who is a defendant in several lawsuits filed by ALC, ranging from excessive force to medical neglect, has been called to resign by both his own staff and impacted community community members like Juana Suanders, the mother of Gerald Thomas.
Saunders spoke out against Warden Harper and Judge Mariani last month at a press conference and the monthly Jail Oversight Board meeting, days after local media reported that she had filed her own judicial misconduct complaint against Mariani.
Mariani is a focal point in the report; his probation detainer lodged against Gerald Thomas kept Thomas incarcerated at ACJ (in solitary confinement) for nearly a year prior to his death, on the basis of charges that were the product of illegal police conduct, and were eventually dropped. Prabhu says, probation detainers, “serve virtually no justifiable public safety purpose. Instead, the courts’ overuse of this tool keeps the Allegheny County Jail full, and ensures that a large proportion of those on probation will be trapped in destabilizing and traumatic cycles of incarceration and supervision.”
In addition to illustrating the unconstitutional, overuse of probation detainers by local Judge Mariani, Prabhu accentuates Mariani’s violations of the Pennsylvania Code of Judicial Conduct, “Defendants on supervision with Judge Mariani are punished for mere allegations: they are detained for months at minimum and ultimately must endure verbal abuse in open court before there is any hope for release.”
From March 2021 to March 2022, Prabhu and volunteers with ALC Court Watch observed Mariani’s court proceedings and recorded countless instances of Mariani verbally abusing defendants, attorneys, and his own staff, demonstrating a lack of understanding of relevant legal standards, and making racist comments about Black defendants’ physiques.
Statements made by Mariani featured in the report emphasize the judge’s racist stereotyping of Black men: “They’re all nice guys… Did you leave your halo in your cells?” Mariani said mockingly to a defense attorney who asserted his client’s good character. In one case, Maraini asked a defendant, “You look pretty meaty, how many pushups can you do without stopping?” In another hearing, the judge indicated that there was nothing stopping a “six foot tall 180 lb lean and mean man from using that weapon—his body—on other people.”
Prabhu, who was present at Gerald Thomas’s Gagnon II hearing writes, “One of the last comments Judge Mariani made during this hearing is particularly chilling in light of Mr. Thomas’s subsequent death in ACJ, evoking vivid racist imagery from this country’s past and present.” According to official court transcripts, Mariani declared to Thomas, “I don’t want to see you dead in the street on Friday or any other day of the week, but you won’t quit. I have to put you in the cage, lasso you, corral you, stuff you because you won’t quit.”
The report concludes by calling for an investigation and sanctioning of Judge Mariani by the Judicial Conduct Board of Pennsylvania, in addition to implementing organized abolitionist interventions that will save lives. This includes removing police from traffic enforcement and prohibiting the use of split sentences, along with decarcerating ACJ and abolishing probation detainers for individuals who have been deemed bailable or merely accused of technical violations.
Currently there are no local or state level rules that address probation detainers, yet over a third of the ACJ population is held on some sort of probation detainer.
The appendix of the report includes summaries of the 62 judicial misconduct complaints filed by ALC Court Watch in which Mariani is likely in violation of the PA Judicial Code of Conduct. The Judicial Conduct Board of Pennsylvania is based in Harrisburg and received the complaints by mail on June 27th.
Read the report, “Death-Making Institutions’: How Police, Probation and the Judiciary Caused Gerald Thomas to Die in Jail” in the embedded PDF viewer below or download directly here
“Law firm accuses Allegheny Common Pleas judge of misconduct in 62 complaints” by Jordana Rosenfeld for PGH City Paper (07/05/2022)
“Public Interest Law Firm Alleges in 62 Complaints Pattern of Racially Charged Bias From Pittsburgh Judge” by Aleeza Furman for The Legal Intelligencer (07/05/2022)
“Group files 60-plus misconduct complaints against Allegheny County Judge Mariani” by Paula Reed Ward for TRIBLive (07/05/2022)
“Pittsburgh advocacy group accuses Allegheny County Judge Anthony Mariani of racism, misconduct in over 60 complaints” by Mik Stinelli for The Pittsburgh Post-Gazette (07/06/2022)
“Dozens of misconduct complaints filed against Allegheny County judge” on WTAE -TV Pittsburgh Action News 4 (07/06/2022)
“CAIR Pittsburgh Supports Probe of Complaints Alleging Bias Misconduct by Judge Anthony Mariani”, press release by The Council on American-Islamic Relations – Pittsburgh Chapter (07/06/2022)
“Pittsburgh Judge Hit With Over 60 Misconduct Complaints” by Hailey Konnath for Law360 (07/06/2022)
“Allegheny County Judge Anthony Mariani faces misconduct charges” on KDKA CBS Pittsburgh (07/06/2022)