PA Attorney General Wants to Strip Innocent Man of His Attorney In Post-Conviction Challenge to 1997 Murder Conviction
July 7, 2015
Eminent Legal Ethicist Professor Geoffrey Hazard
Submits Opinion Letter in Support of Attorney Rachel Wolkenstein’s Representation of Corey Walker.
Hearing on Thursday, July 16, 2015, 10 AM in Courtroom 8, before Senior Judge Lawrence Clark of the Court of Common Pleas, Dauphin County Courthouse,
Front and Market Streets, Harrisburg, Pa. The AG subpoenaed trial co-defendants Corey Walker and Lorenzo Johnson to testify.
For nineteen years, Corey Walker, an innocent man, has wanted a new “day in court” to overturn his conviction for a 1995 Harrisburg murder he had nothing to do with. Instead, the PA Attorney General’s Office (OAG) has subpoenaed him as a witness in an attempt to remove his attorney Rachel Wolkenstein for supposed violations of the Rules of Professional Conduct and her “intolerable” political views.
Professor Geoffrey Hazard, Emeritus Professor of Law at the University of Pennsylvania, Hastings College of Law, University of California; and Yale University provided a July 1, 2015 Opinion Letter, incorporated into Petitioner Corey Walker’s Supplemental Memorandum in Opposition filed July 7, 2016, stating in part:
“In summary, in my opinion the situation does not justify termination of your pro hac vice admission. …The situation as a whole illustrates the importance of pro hac vice representation in prisoner cases. In my opinion, there is a corresponding need to avoid over-strict application of rules of professional conduct. No part of your conduct involved the core principles of professional ethics, which are maintenance of loyalty and confidentiality and, in litigation, zealous representation.”
“I can well understand that the AG would not like having to deal with your representation of Mr. Walker, but that is not a basis for revoking your pro hac vice admission.”
Rachel Wolkenstein is an attorney admitted to practice in New York State since 1974 and a member of the United States Supreme Court bar since 1985. On the motion of J. Michael Farrell, Esq. she was admitted pro hac vice by Judge Todd A. Hoover, September 19, 2014 to represent Corey Walker. Corey Walker responded to the OAG motion to disqualify his attorney:
“I am outraged that my attorney Rachel Wolkenstein’s integrity is being questioned by the AG. I’m an innocent man who’s sentenced to life in prison because the prosecution and police manufactured false evidence. That in itself tells you whose integrity should be questioned. Yes, the police and prosecution!”
Since June 25, 2014 Corey Walker has filed a post-conviction petition and two supplemental petitions with evidence of his innocence and due process violations based on the corruption and lack of integrity of the police investigation and prosecution.
The murder charges brought against Corey Walker and Lorenzo Johnson were not supported by the police investigation. The prosecution’s trial evidence was entirely circumstantial: There was no eyewitness to the shotgun murder, no weapon, no fingerprints, and no blood evidence.
Corey Walker and Lorenzo Johnson were targeted as NY drug dealers, who the Dauphin County Drug Task Force called “New York N—–s.” Walker and Johnson insisted on their innocence and rejected plea deals. They refused to “cooperate” and give false testimony and went to trial. At the time of the shotgun killing, Walker was in a nearby bar and Johnson was in New York City. They each had numerous alibi witnesses. Until the jury rendered its guilty verdicts and the judge immediately sentenced them to life without parole, they hadn’t believed that innocent men could be convicted of murder.
The evidence at the core of Corey Walker’s PCRA petition proves the police and prosecution manufactured evidence of guilt. Missing from the police files released at trial was a record of “identifiable fingerprints” from the scene; that the main witness was a suspect and her recorded witness statement a few months after the murder materially contradicts her trial testimony. Also there is new evidence that the new “motive witness,” a crack addict, had a close family-like relationship with the lead detective. She was given a sentencing deal in exchange for her testimony. The prosecutor, E. Christopher Abruzzo, then a deputy Attorney General, vouched for his witnesses as having “no motive to lie.”
The OAG did not file a response to Corey Walker’s PCRA petition, but instead brought a motion on November 6, 2014 asking Judge Todd A. Hoover to “Vacate Order Granting Admission To Practice Pro Hac Vice [to Rachel Wolkenstein, Esq.]”
With its motion to have attorney Wolkenstein’s admission pro hac vice vacated, the PA Office of the Attorney General has added a new tactic to its efforts to defeat prisoners’ legal challenges to their convictions. The action to remove Corey Walker’s attorney is an attempt to silence Corey Walker, to shut down his post-conviction challenge and to retaliate against him for his challenge to the police and prosecutorial misconduct that led to his and trial co-defendant Lorenzo Johnson’s convictions.
As is stated in the OAG motion, the prosecution considers it “a reckless accusation” for Corey Walker and his attorney to claim the OAG violated its constitutional obligation to disclose “materially favorable” information to the defense. And in response to trial co-defendant Lorenzo Johnson’s petition asserting failure to disclose police records and witness interviews, the OAG states, Johnson has “recklessly unleashed the hounds of defamatory hell ….”
The OAG also objects to collaboration between Corey Walker and Lorenzo Johnson in investigating their cases and sharing the police records and other documents from the case file of their joint prosecution. This is a case file that according the OAG was an “open file” and available to both defendants at trial.
The OAG motion alleges that Corey Walker’s lawyer, Rachel Wolkenstein, violated Professional Rules of Conduct by working with the Campaign to Free Lorenzo Johnson (not as Johnson’s lawyer in his legal case), assisting Corey Walker with his pro se petition and that she is now representing Corey Walker pro bono having been admitted pro hac vice. The OAG asserts it was a violation of the Rules for her to communicate with Lorenzo Johnson because he has counsel in his own post-conviction proceedings. Additionally the OAG alleges that Corey Walker and Lorenzo Johnson have a conflict of interest and that attorney Wolkenstein’s support to Lorenzo Johnson violates her duty of loyalty in representing Corey Walker.
The OAG also argues that attorney Wolkenstein’s political views on the race and class bias integral to the U.S. criminal justice system and her decades long defense of political prisoner Mumia Abu-Jamal makes it “intolerable” for her to practice law in Pennsylvania.
In attorney Wolkenstein’s Response (filed November 25, 2014) and Corey Walker’s Motion to Dismiss the Commonwealth Motion without an Evidentiary Hearing (denied on March 23, 2015), and in a Supplemental Memo in Opposition (filed July 7, 2015) facts and legal argument are presented demonstrating that the Commonwealth Motion is without basis in law or fact and is in violation of both Walker’s and Wolkenstein’s constitutional rights.
Corey Walker’s arguments in opposition to the Commonwealth’s action to remove his attorney, Rachel Wolkenstein includes the following claims:
- The Commonwealth Motion is an attempt to deprive Petitioner Corey Walker of his right to counsel of his choice and access to the courts and free speech in presenting his legal challenges to his conviction.
- The Commonwealth Motion is brought in bad faith and in retaliation to Petitioner’s exercise of his right to access to the courts, and right to counsel of his choice under the First, Sixth and Fourteenth Amendments and the Pennsylvania Constitution.
- The Commonwealth Motion constitutes impermissible government interference with Petitioner’s access to the courts, constitutes disparagement of the integrity and loyalty of Walker’s attorney is an impermissible prosecution interference with the attorney-client relationship and Petitioner’s right to counsel of his choice.
- The Commonwealth’s objection that attorney Wolkenstein’s political views make it “intolerable” and “improper and inadvisable” for her continued admission to practice pro hac vice is an attack on Corey Walker’s right to counsel of his choice; violating Corey Walker’s Sixth Amendment Rights and an attempt to unconstitutionally restrict attorney Wolkenstein’s freedom of speech.As stated in Corey Walker’s motion: “The gravamen of the Commonwealth’s Motion to Vacate Order Granting Admission to Practice Pro Hac Vice is to divert the Court’s attention from the gross misconduct and constitutional violations that permeated the prosecution of Petitioner. ”
Contact: Rachel Wolkenstein (917) 689-4009