PITTSBURGH (KDKA) – Lisa Middleman is running for district attorney as a criminal justice reformer, aiming to make the system fairer and more hospitable to the poor and minorities.
“We have watched our tax dollars go to pushing people down instead of raising them up,” she said at her campaign kickoff last week.
“And we have watched the citizens of Allegheny County be denied the true justice they deserve.”
But some bizarre statements she made in a case nearly three decades ago are now raising eyebrows.
In defending a white man accused of ethnically intimidating a bi-racial couple, Middleman was taken to task for striking or removing two African-American women from the jury.
But in this transcript obtained by KDKA, Middleman told the judge she didn’t strike them because they were black — she struck them because they were fat.
“I do not like big, fat, sloppy people on my jury,” the transcript said.
“If you’re that big and you’re that fat, you don’t care a lot about what you look like, and you don’t care about a lot of things. Being that big and fat shows a lack of discipline, a lack of something.”
Middleman declined to be interviewed on camera but issued this statement saying what she said at the time was not meant to be taken seriously:
“I was making a point about the ridiculous racist practices of the ADA’s at the time. That’s why the comments were so obviously absurd. Although I do not have notes from that trial, I likely struck any jurors who were visibly upset when the charges were read. For 32 years, I have always done what was in the best interests of my clients within the law, something DA Zappala has never been able to do.”
Her opponent, District Attorney Stephen Zappala, declined to comment.
But back in 1991, three teenagers were convicted of spray painting slurs on the home of a biracial couple in Bethel Park.
The following year, Middleman defended an 18-year-old accused of giving the younger teens cigarettes and money to do the spray painting.
After the jury was empaneled, the prosecutor in the case objected to Middleman striking the black jurors.
In the judge’s chambers, Middleman also said she feared the women might resent her for being thin and attractive.
“I don’t want fat, ugly people on my jury because I don’t want them to dislike me, and not be worried about the facts of the case.”
It was a long time ago, and Middleman says the statements were made in jest.
But they remain part of the public record as she runs for district attorney.