HARRISBURG, Pa. (WHTM) – ABC27 has learned that Dauphin County Judge Bruce Bratton submitted notice of his resignation one week after a public defender named him in a court motion claiming racism and inappropriate relationships at the courthouse.
A Dauphin County spokesperson released a statement Friday following ABC27’s reports the previous day. The statement says Judge Bratton is retiring for personal and family reasons, effective August 31.
Public defender Lynn Ellenberger filed the motion that mentions Bratton at the Dauphin County Courthouse at the end of June. Her client is Emanon Shannon, who is serving a prison sentence of 45 to 90 years. Shannon was found guilty of robbery, aggravated assault, and kidnapping, amongst other charges.
Shannon is African-American, and Ellenberger’s motion says he cannot get a fair trial in Dauphin County, citing “the appearance, if not the actuality, of a bias and prejudice.”
Ellenberger is asking the Dauphin County bench to recuse itself and disqualify the district attorney’s office from Shannon’s case. She attached email chains to the court paperwork to support her argument.
One quotes a fake survey, saying “86 percent of Detroit’s inner city residents (almost all of whom are registered Democrats) said that they have enjoyed sex in the shower. The other 14 percent said they hadn’t been to prison yet.”
In her motion, Ellenberger writes that the reference to Detroit’s inner-city residents is “code for African-American.”
Another email chain involves a joke about a man named Leroy asking a preacher to pray for his hearing. After praying over his ears, the preacher asks Leroy how his hearing is. Leroy says, “I don’t know, Reverend, it ain’t til next Wednesday.”
Yet another email shows a series of pictures entitled “Prom Night at Camden High School.” The photos show several black high school students dressed for prom in what the motion refers to as “attire that would generally be considered unusual” with phrases such as “Who’s Yo Daddy?”, “The Hood”, and “GheToes.”
The documents show the emails were received by several prominent figures in Dauphin County. The motion specifically names those with connections to court proceedings, including two Dauphin County judges (Bratton and the late Judge Bernard Coates); District Attorney Ed Marsico; assistant district attorneys Fran Chardo, Michael Rozman, and Stephen Zawisky; and defense attorneys including Ari Weitzman and Jeff Engle, who at one point represented Shannon.
There is no evidence attached to the motion that any of the people at the courthouse involved in the email chains asked the sender to stop. However, there is also no documented evidence that any of the above names forwarded or passed those emails on.
After the so-called “Porngate” scandal involving controversial emails that rocked Pennsylvania’s Supreme Court, many have pointed out that it is nearly impossible for a person to control the messages that other people send to his or her inbox.
In her motion, Ellenberger argues there is a bigger issue. She says the people defending and prosecuting her client, along with judges, were close enough to be on email chains together that are “making fun of prison rape … highly offensive … racist,” and perpetuating “negative racial stereotypes.”
Ellengerger continues to write that, as a result, “Mr. Shannon’s legal proceedings were never a confrontation between adversaries and thus violated his constitutional guarantees.”
ABC27 called Judge Bratton. He said he could not comment on the motion because he had not read it. When asked why he is stepping down, Bratton referred ABC27 to the statement sent on Friday, citing personal and family reasons.
District Attorney Ed Marsico declined to go on camera. He sent ABC27 an email saying, “These motions to recuse the entire bench and my office are frivolous and based on media reports. There is no conflict of interest with our office handling the case. There is no allegation the office did anything improper.”
On the phone, Marsico reiterated his point that he does not control which messages other people choose to send to his inbox.
Other attorneys spoke with ABC27 on background, saying they would not be surprised to see additional motions or lawsuits surrounding the emails circulating in Dauphin County.