Allegheny County Common Pleas Judge David Cashman has stepped down from his position as chair of the county’s Jail Oversight Board. The judge submitted a letter of resignation to County President Judge Kim Clark Friday afternoon.
Cashman's resignation came on the heels of a contentious board meeting late Thursday afternoon. Dozens of community members attended to demand better jail conditions. But when some of them heckled county officials, two were forcibly removed and later cited by sheriff's deputies. The board walked out amidst the ensuing commotion, and the meeting ended shortly after it began.
"It would appear that I have become a lightning rod for the animosity directed at the Board by the individuals who purport to represent the transgender population of Allegheny County," he said in a page-long letter first reported by WESA.
"We have attempted to accommodate those individuals and set up special meetings in order to discuss their particular concerns, however, we have not been able to quantify their particular problems and, as such, they have become more frustrated and combative," the letter continued. "Their attitude towards the members of the board has been antagonistic, vituperative and vindicative. The language that they have used at our last meetings can charitably be referred to as intemperate."
Clark, who as president judge chooses judicial representatives on the board, said she hopes to appoint Cashman’s successor early next week. Clark said Cashman “did a good job” as chair, and tried to address the concerns of activists.
“He led the oversight board with dignity and respect, and that’s all anyone can ask,” Clark said.
Ciora Thomas, a transgender activist who was one of the two people cited at Thursday's meeting, said she was not surprised that Cashman was "running away."
"He didn't do anything," she said. "It was just lip service he was doing."
Cashman left early from another oversight board meeting this week, after a heated exchange between an activist and a deputy, and he has had testy exchanges with Thomas at prior meetings.
Activists said Thursday they were growing frustrated with the board's response to their concerns. Vanesa Carter, of SisTersPGH, said the premature end of the Thursday meeting proved the board members' premature departure shows they do not care about trying to improve jail conditions.
“They keep having these meetings asking the same repetitive questions: What do we want to change? What do we do we do to change? And still, not, have done nothing but walk out on us,” Carter said.
The oversight board's nine members are charged with monitoring jail management and ensuring prisoner safety. Cashman was one of two judicial appointees: The other board members are a mix of county officials and citizens chosen by the county executive.
Thomas, who founded SisTersPGH, said that the oversight board lacks power, which activists say lies with the county executive, Democrat Rich Fitzgerald.
"I hope firstly that the board actually gets some power," Thomas said, and is led by "someone just with inclusive thinking [about] how to serve all the people in the jail."
As for Fitzgerald, she said, "if Rich doesn't take the initiative to reach out to our groups, we're going to reach out to him and protest him." In the meantime, she said she still plans to attend the oversight board's meetings.