Judge's memorial edict sparks outrage

February 18, 2009 3:43:29 PM PST
The judge embroiled in a battle with the Philadelphia Police has had his duties curtailed. It began Tuesday when Judge Craig Washington ordered a picture of Officer Pawlowski removed from his courtroom, saying he wanted to appear unbiased.

That has sparked outrage city-wide.

Judge Washington was clearly not happy to see news cameras outside his home this morning as he left for work.

Today, Washington was placed on emergency duty only in the wake of his dustup with the Fraternal Order of Police.

The Police Union is calling for his removal from the bench.

Washington had asked that a photo of slain Philadelphia Police Officer John Pawlowski be removed from the bench where he holds court. It's also in the same room of Philadelphia's 35th District where police hold shift roll calls. After his request was denied, police say he turned the photograph over.

Pawlowski worked in the 35th district.

The full shrine to Pawlowski was put back up today, including multiple pictures and flowers. However, they were moved to the side when hearings were held.

Police say the judge who held court today allowed a picture of Officer Pawlowski to be placed in the same spot it was in yesterday when the controversy erupted.

The Union wants all hearings in that courtroom suspended until the mourning period is over.

Captain John McCloskey says an aunt and uncle of Officer Pawlowski came in Wednesday to support the cops' defiance.

"Two of his family members came up, they just wanted to come and thank the officers for standing up for John and standing up to the judge," said Capt. McCloskey.

Municipal court president Judge Marsha Neifield issued a statement saying, "Although the hearings are held at the police station, they must be treated like hearings in any other official courtroom."

The chancellor of the Philadelphia Bar Associaton, Sayde Ladov, is calling Judge Washington's letter of the law stance a "proper one," while saying the raw emotions of the cops are understandable.

"Could the situation have been handled in a better way? Or, perhaps, could there have been better interface between the court and the officers who were on duty in the 35th District? Certainly there could have been, so this problem could have been solved in a more collegial, professional way," Ladov said.

FOP president John McNesby tells Action News that he has nothing more to say about this flap with Judge Washington. They're moving on, preparing to bury the 6th Philadelphia police officer killed in the line of duty in the last 16 months.

Judge Washington refused Action News' repeated requests for an interview.

Washington is 59 years old, and was first elected to municipal court in 1997. He was retained in a vote back in 2003, and is up for another retention vote this fall.

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