Thursday, January 7, 2010

Speaking Of Zappala

There's only one point that I want to make about the whole bizarre hate triangle between Dr. Cyril Wecht, D.A. Stephen Zappala and State Sen. Jane Orie.

On KQV News Radio 1410 the other day, Wecht alleged:

"Steve Zappala said to a state legislator back in 2005 that 'Anybody that screws with me or my family is going to be indicted.' That's a direct quote. A direct quote. And I want him to stand in front of the cameras and respond to you and say that he never made that statement."


"Another statement he sent to me in 2005, through an attorney ... was that if I was willing not to become the chief medical examiner of Allegheny County then quote, 'All of this will go away', talking about the entire investigation that he had initiated and instigated..."

Those are ABOMINABLE, MONSTROUS accusations. That is all they are -- accusations -- but they need to be denied.

Wecht did himself no favors by allowing a foul ethnic slur to escape his lips just a tiny bit later, in reference to somebody who works in Mr. Zappala's office. Zappala in response rightfully deplored that portion and made reference to the fact that Wecht "does not like him" -- but he did not touch upon the substance of Wecht's allegations.

He cannot play "I won't dignify that with a response" with this. It's just too serious. He's the only district attorney we have and we must be assured he's not using his office as a club to advance the business interests or political aspirations of himself or his family.

Now, I disagree with Wecht that what Orie has just been accused of is obviously insignificant. And during Wecht's first trial, I disagreed with him that what he himself stood accused of at that time was "nickel and dime stuff" and also insignificant. I am a hawk when it comes to the people's resources being utilized for personal gain, and believe that if "everybody does" that type of thing then everybody should go to jail, so that everybody who replaces them can learn a valuable lesson.

Then again, I acknowledge that is all easy for me to say from my vantage point. Reasonable people can disagree in regards to the relative seriousness of using government equipment, government time and government personnel to make political phone calls and write political letters. I don't think I've ever held a job where I did not send an e-mail or make a few calls for extracurricular purposes. Furthermore I don't think I've ever met a political staffer who would not take a bullet for his or her boss without even being asked. I still think it's clearly wrong and am confident the law agrees with me -- but in other atmospheres I can understand someone holding a different opinion.

But there's wrong and then there's absolutely heinous.

To threaten people with criminal prosecution as political leverage -- no, not political, but personal, entrepreneurial leverage -- and to dangle the possibility of eluding prosecution if others do as one demands is several orders of magnitude worse than anything of which Wecht, Orie, DeWeese or Perzel has ever been accused. It's in a league of its own. And although superficially similar to what Attorney General Tom Corbett's detractors have suggested about him, it is far more specific and serious in terms of the quid-pro-quo arrangements allegedly sought after -- and has been met with far greater silence.

So did our District Attorney make those statements or statements like it? Well? Allegheny County deserves a real answer, not mere counter-accusations. This isn't a wrestling feud or a soap opera -- the integrity of our criminal justice apparatus has just been gruesomely maligned, and we can all see that. It needs to be denied with specificity.


  1. There are other accusationsthat should be addressed as well.

  2. So who does one call? It feels like we are in a movie with the mob on one side and corrupt cops on the other. Who rides in with a white hat? Who steps out of the phone booth for truth, justice, and the American way? Tom Corbett?

  3. Does anyone seriously believe anything Cyril Wecht says?

  4. I for one do believe Cyril Wecht. He's getting older and will never run again for anything - what has he got to lose? Clearly Little Steve got the job because of Big Steve. Kim Clark should have been named DA but our Common Pleas judges just couldn't bring themselves to support a highly qualified African American woman and instead towed the line for this version of a DA. He looks good on TV, he does some good charity work, but he is a Zappala before he is a DA representing the people of Allegheny County.

  5. Somebody said dignity was the first to leaveJanuary 7, 2010 at 4:53 PM

    Bram, I had a totally different read on Zappala's response.

    Initially the accusations, while monstrous, don't seem all that unbelievable in a Commonwealth like ours. But more importantly, Zappala didn't take the "I won't dignify that with a response" approach; quite the contrary, he responded to two substantive accusations, while trying stupidly and unsuccessfully to divert attention to the slur.

    Sounds to me like an in toto admission of the remaining accusations.

  6. 4:53 - If that's your read, that's your read. One of those two points to which he did respond:

    "The District Attorney’s dad has never been employed by any governmental agency involving gaming."

    It sounded to me as though Wecht obviously must have misspoke when he put it that way. The DA's dad is definitely involved with a gaming lobbying-not-lobbying organization, and his uncle has or at least has had outright professional ties to casinos. That's more than enough to establish the case that the DA's family interests are at loggerheads with what Sen. Orie had been pursuing legitimately as a state legislator.

    The other claim that was denied:

    "The District Attorney never failed the bar exam."

    Seems to me like a very minor detail. Worthwhile to deny if it's not true, but then again, it's also consistent with somebody cherry-picking two unimportant details in what are otherwise serious allegations.

    I don't doubt you read it differently; I read it differently at first blush as well. I submit that some clarification is in order.

  7. Come to think of it, the press release stated that he'd "like to correct the record". We could take that as saying the record is now fully corrected, and Mr. Zappala did in fact issue those threats / make that offer.

  8. Somebody said dignity was the first to leaveJanuary 7, 2010 at 7:30 PM

    As to the two details he chose to correct, I agree they're unimportant. And, when you get down to it, the one about his dad is just parsing words over what was clearly a minor misstatement during a bitter man's rant. That doesn't really affect the import or basis of the statement, which are heavy and sound.

    As to the correction of the record, I think you're right on. And, no PA lawyer is going to let an allegation like that go unanswered unless there's no good way to answer it. He's been taught that it's then deemed denied! Obviously we're not dealing with a legal pleading here. But couldn't he at least have passed this thing by the eyes of a decent attorney or PR whiz before sending it off? As it is, it just comes off as a partial admission via the knee-jerk reaction of a local political hack.

  9. ***crickets***

    Why did Pat Dowd flip?

  10. Dowd's abrupt change to the Mayor cannot be explained.