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As is often the case when Philadelphia’s police department is embroiled in controversy, the city’s mayor has turned to lawyers for advice. Mayor John Street’s seven-person task force on police discipline, to be headed by Temple Law School Associate Dean JoAnne Epps, will be comprised entirely of lawyers. The group will be charged with studying the department’s disciplinary process and arbitration system and will be reporting back to the mayor by Nov. 30. The other committee members include Blank Rome Comisky & McCauley partner and former Common Pleas Judge Nelson Diaz; Montgomery McCracken Walker & Rhoads partner, former federal prosecutor and former state attorney general candidate Jim Eisenhower; Comroe Hing & Associates partner Glenn F. Hing; Miller Alfano & Raspanti partner and former federal prosecutor Greg Miller; and Reed Smith partner and former assistant district attorney Carolyn Short. The seventh member, also an attorney, has been identified but the person’s name has not been released as the mayor’s office attempts to confirm whether he or she will accept the appointment, according to the mayor’s spokeswoman Luz Cardenas. Committee members will review an October 2000 report by attorney Ellen Ceisler that was critical of disciplinary policies and procedures within the police department as well as studying disciplinary systems used in other cities. The task force also plans to have a Web site for the public to register opinions. What the task force won’t do is review specific cases, namely the one that recently evolved into a major controversy — the police internal-affairs investigation that found a cover-up surrounding a 1998 drunk-driving-related car accident involving then-Homicide Capt. James J. Brady. “If we could make suggestions for changes where there would be less of a chance in the future that there would be an outcome like that one, I think that would be useful,” Epps said. “I know that sounds like pablum, but here’s why I don’t think it is. “I still have to study everything before forming firm opinions but it sounds like there is a system in place that makes it hard for [Police] Commissioner [John] Timoney to impose the punishment he deems as being proper. I have to do a lot of reading, so I’m not sure there is room within the system [of arbitration under the police officer's union contract] that would allow for that kind of change. We don’t want to use this to reassess the Brady case. We want to talk about the system as a whole.” Epps, 49, is a former federal prosecutor and deputy attorney of Los Angeles who has served as Temple Law’s associate dean for academic affairs since 1989. She would most likely have become its dean last year if current dean Robert Reinstein had been selected as university president. City Solicitor Kenneth Trujillo was the mayor’s point person in selecting the task force members and will serve as its legal counsel. He said Epps was an obvious choice for chair because of the variety in her personal and professional experiences. “We needed someone who was organized, and JoAnne is clearly a take-charge kind of a person,” Trujillo said. “As a legal educator, a prosecutor and city attorney in Los Angeles, she brings the perfect mix to the table.” Trujillo, who himself was appointed by former Mayor Ed Rendell to a committee dealing with police corruption, said he and Mayor Street put the group of attorneys together in less than 48 hours. He said lawyers often make the best candidates for investigating perceived problems within the police department, specifically those who have experience as prosecutors. In this case, all of the committee members, save for Diaz and Hing, have served as either city, state or federal prosecutors. But Diaz was a judge who dealt with law enforcement officials on a daily basis. Hing has been involved solely in private practice but has been extremely active in the Philadelphia Asian-American community, Trujillo said. “We needed people with a degree of credibility and a broad range of experiences, who have a level of sensitivity to the police department and the community as a whole,” Trujillo said. “I think that it is hard to have sensitivity to what police go through unless you have worked in law enforcement in some capacity.” Lawyers were called to serve in the wake of other recent police scandals. As the city’s first “integrity officer,” attorney James B. Jordan monitored the police department after the 39th District scandal, in which officers were found to have planted evidence, stolen on the job, and lied on the witness stand. In 1997, Rendell unfurled an 18-member police corruption task force after the 39th District scandal. And just last year, Ceisler authored her report. Epps said the first item on her agenda will be to set up a meeting schedule and begin to review documents to discuss what, if any, procedural changes the group will recommend to Street and Timoney. As she spoke to The Legal Intelligencer at the end of a long day of broadcast and print interviews, Epps said the mayor called her directly on Tuesday in Chicago, where she was attending a function, and asked her to serve. She added that she isn’t sure why he selected her as chair but she wasn’t about to argue with him. “I’d be interested in knowing why he chose me,” she said. “But I guess I’ll wait until this whole process is over, and then I’ll ask him.”

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