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Philadelphia Inquirer Quotes Assistant Trial Advocacy Director Abbie Heller on Controversial Courtroom Maneuver

Abbie Heller, assistant director of Trial Advocacy program

August 30, 2018

Assistant Trial Advocacy Director Abbie Heller was quoted in a Philadelphia Inquirer story on Aug. 26 about a move by the Philadelphia District Attorney’s Office to block a request by one of its own prosecutors to clear a courtroom during a criminal trial.

According to the article, an assistant district attorney asked Common Pleas Court Judge Giovanni Campbell to clear the courtroom for the testimony of the victim in an alleged robbery that was tried on Aug. 10. The defense attorney raised no objection, but two of the defendant’s supporters protested being ousted from the courtroom and sought help from District Attorney Larry Krasner. The Inquirer reported that Krasner dispatched an aide, who asked the judge not to clear the courtroom during a meeting in chambers.

“It's odd that another district attorney came in and went against the initial district attorney, especially in a case where the defense attorney was agreeing with the district attorney trying the case," Heller told the Inquirer.

A former public defender who has represented other clients before Campbell, Heller described the maneuver as “strange," especially since the defense attorney had raised no objection to clearing the courtroom.

Krasner’s spokesman told the newspaper that the aide had intervened because the judge had created possible grounds for an appeal by barring spectators, an explanation disputed by a veteran defense attorney quoted in the article.  

The article noted that Campbell did not allow the defendant’s supporters back into the courtroom until the verdict was delivered and that the judge ultimately acquitted him after concluding that the prosecution had not met its burden.

A '14 alumna of the law school, Heller has coached numerous members of the Trial Team to national championships in mock trial competitions.