by Irvin Muchnick
A Lehigh County Court of Common Pleas judge who spoke out colorfully to Concussion Inc. about the abuses of James Martin, the long-time district attorney there, and promised supportive testimony for the defendant in Martin’s First Amendment-chilling defamation lawsuit against a persistent critic, now has reneged on that promise.
On October 10, renegade blogger Bill Villa, the target of the district attorney’s legal retaliation, reminded Judge James Anthony by email that the time was near for when “you’ll be called to testify against Martin, per your volunteer offer to my attorney, stay tuned.”
Anthony emailed back, “I will not be participating in your case.” The judge later told Villa not to make further contact with him.
Yet on February 18, 2016, Anthony had emailed Villa, in part:
“ … if I am ever ordered by a proper authority to testify as to what I know about Jim Martin, my opinions of him, and/or his reputation in the community, I will do so. I love this country and the men and women in uniform who have sacrificed, and who continue to sacrifice, defending our Constitution, so much so that I would risk my career and public scorn exposing a disgraceful human being like Jim Martin who, in my opinion, abuses his authority. He fools and intimidates many, but not those who know him best and who have the courage to stand up to him.”
This 2016 email comports with things Judge Anthony also said to me about Martin in 2015. In preparing this story, I twice tried to reach Anthony by email for an explanation of his apparent change of heart. He has not responded.
For full context, my interest in Martin’s disgraceful lawsuit against Villa — a textbook example of a SLAPP action (“Strategic Lawsuit Against Public Participation”) — stemmed from our coverage of the cover-up and “justice delayed, justice denied” prosecution of the late WWE star Jimmy “Superfly” Snuka for his likely 1983 murder of his girlfriend Nancy Argentino in their Whitehall, Pennsylvania motel room.
Villa is the father of Sheena Villa, who was killed by a drunk driver in 2006 at age 25. Since then, Bill Villa’s citizen journalism has exposed the coddling of well-connected criminals by DA Martin and the Lehigh County justice system. Martin sued Villa and local radio station WAEB in 2015.
Past examples of Concussion Inc.’s periodic looks at the dismal free speech implications of this corrupt law enforcement official’s “private” defamation action include:
“Jimmy ‘Superfly’ Snuka Murder Trial Delay Combines With District Attorney’s Defamation Lawsuit to Expose Rot at Core of Lehigh Valley Criminal Justice,” March 15, 2016, https://concussioninc.net/?p=10826
“Allentown Morning Call, After Botching Coverage of Jimmy ‘Superfly’ Snuka Murder Case, Botches Coverage of Prosecutor James Martin’s SLAPP Suit Against Critic Bill Villa,” September 1, 2017, https://concussioninc.net/?p=12181
Prior to my publishing either of the two pieces linked above, Judge Anthony had initiated a correspondence with me.
(Before recording some of what he said to me, let’s get out of the way two technical facts. One, Anthony and Villa are distant relatives. Two, the part about Anthony’s potentially being “ordered” to testify in Martin v. Villa refers to the procedures of Pennsylvania law: a sitting judge cannot, strictly speaking, “volunteer” to testify, but he can be ordered to do so by a court.)
On October 4, 2015, Anthony emailed me:
Dear Mr. Muchnick:
I am a Lehigh County judge. Bill Villa, who is related to me through marriage (My late father’s brother has been married to Bill’s mother’s sister for well over 50 years, and we share two first cousins – one who is copied.) sent me your 9/30/15 piece to this, my private email address. My comment to Bill is set forth below.
Bill also sent me your 10/2/15 piece. In it you say: “The way I found out about Martin’s previous D.A. office stint was in an email, via an intermediary, from a Pennsylvania judge who did not want to be named.”
Just to be clear, I never said I did not want to be named because I did not anticipate that Bill Villa would have sent to you my September 30, 2015, email to him, or would have even discussed with you the contents of the email. I realize that you are not from this area, but it is no secret that Jim Martin was Bill Platt’s first assistant in the early 1980s, and a quick Internet search confirms that fact.
I served as an assistant district attorney under Bill Platt from 1989 until he went into private practice, and then under Bob Steinberg during his entire tenure until he became a judge. I do not share Bill Villa’s mistrust of them. I also served under Jim Martin from 1998 to 1999, and though I initially supported him, I do not trust him.
As far as the Snuka matter is concerned, while I am sympathetic for the family of the young woman who died, I have no knowledge of the case other than what I have read – and I am not the judge assigned to preside over the case.
One other point: I don’t play whisper down the alley when it comes to Jim Martin. Among other things, he’s a bully and I’ve put him in his place more than once..
(Anthony’s comment to Villa on September 30 had been, “I am not making judgments, but I’m fairly certain Jim Martin was Bill Platt’s first assistant in 1983.” Platt, the district attorney who passed on bringing charges against Snuka, is now a senior Pennsylvania judge.)
I replied to the judge: “Thanks for your note, though I’m not sure what to make of it. I’m trying to get to the bottom of the Snuka murder investigation cover-up, a topic that seems of no interest to the Morning Call. I’m writing facts and findings and interpretations in relation to that. I’m not particularly interested in a statement, whether open or veiled, by an insider to the effect that ‘I don’t trust Jim Martin.’ (I mean, it’s useful background but I’d never publish something like that out of nowhere, without context.) I was interested in learning that he was first assistant D.A. in 1983, because it seemed to me that the Morning Call’s supposedly great story reopening the Snuka matter had gone out of its way not to make clear a point that is Journalism 101.”
Anthony then said he was merely setting the record straight: “My opinions concerning Jim Martin are based upon years of dealing with the man. These opinions are not based on what, if anything, he may have done in regard to the Snuka matter.”
After I thanked the judge for his information and closed the thread, he got in this final word:
“Parenthetically, and out of fairness to my colleagues on the bench especially Judge Dantos who is presiding over the case, if you wish to correct the record in the context of what I have written to you and without cherry picking, feel free to do so. My only comment to Bill was: ‘I am not making judgments, but I’m fairly certain Jim Martin was Bill Platt’s first assistant in 1983.’ I never said I wanted ‘I did not want to be named’ as Bill never indicated to me that he would contacting you and citing me as a source.
The fact of the matter is that the Morning Call, in typical fashion when it comes to dealing with Jim Martin, failed to mention he was first assistant DA in 1983.”
Villa published a compendium of Anthony’s seemingly supportive correspondence to him at https://drive.google.com/file/d/1-CkBTZHE7izfcX_wRXHzaGP2A9bfAvHZ/view.