State lawmakers set to vote on Krasner impeachment

Larry Krasner impeachment
District Attorney Larry Krasner
Jack Tomczuk

Philadelphia District Attorney Larry Krasner is on the verge of being impeached after Republican state lawmakers advanced charges against him Tuesday.

The GOP-led Pennsylvania House of Representatives, in its final scheduled session before a possible Democratic majority takes over in January, is set to vote Wednesday on whether Krasner should be removed.

If the articles of impeachment are approved, Krasner would be tried in the state senate, which would need a two-thirds majority to strip him of his office.

“This is a big day for Philadelphia. This is a big day for Pennsylvania,” said state Rep. Martina White, of the Far Northeast, who introduced the articles of impeachment last month. “We’re finally going to be holding Larry Krasner accountable for his actions.”

Krasner has cast the impeachment attempt as a crude political maneuver, and his office said in a statement Tuesday that “these legislators – like their failed gubernatorial nominee and colleague Doug Mastriano – are more committed to gutting democracy than working for the people of the Commonwealth.”

White’s impeachment resolution alleges that Krasner’s policies are the driving force behind the increase in homicides and shootings in Philadelphia in recent years, and also that he obstructed a special legislative committee tasked with investigating his office.

As evidence, White pointed to the share of criminal cases that end with charges being withdrawn or dismissed, which has climbed in recent years, reaching 67% last year compared with 30% in 2016.

Krasner’s office said those numbers depict “an unfairly distorted picture” because the coronavirus pandemic led to a historically high number of open cases and changed how cases progress through the court system.

The District Attorney’s Office provided data indicating that 83% of “trial-ready” homicide cases and 79% of non-fatal shooting cases end with a conviction.

The articles of impeachment cite two specific cases in detail, involving former Philadelphia police officer Ryan Pownall and convicted murderer Robert Wharton.

Pownall’s murder charges, for the 2017 on-duty shooting of David Jones, were dropped last month, with a judge admonishing prosecutors for the instructions they gave to a grand jury in the case.

In Wharton’s case, a federal judge said the DAO provided false information as part of proceedings to decide whether to downgrade his death penalty sentence.

“His dereliction of duty and despicable behavior is unacceptable and cannot be tolerated,” White said during Tuesday’s meeting of the House Judiciary Committee.

State Rep. Martina White speaks to reporters Thursday, Sept. 29, during a break in a committee hearing at the Navy Yard. Jack Tomczuk

During the meeting, Rep. Jason Dawkins, who represents Frankford and part of Olney, made an unsuccessful motion to table the articles of impeachment until a full hearing on the issues could be held.

Dawkins, who talked about how his brother was fatally shot two decades ago, noted that Republican candidates who lost in last week’s election attempted to tie Democratic nominees to lawlessness in Philadelphia and Krasner’s policies in attack advertisements.

Democrats are poised to potentially take a slim majority in the state house, unless they come up short in a pair of races that remain too close to call.

“In a few days, you will see real change in the city of Philadelphia, because you will have folks who are serious about challenging and having solutions to the problems,” Dawkins added.

Krasner has been elected twice — most recently last year, when he handily defeated challengers in the Democratic primary and general election who attempted to characterize him as ‘soft on crime.’

Judiciary Committee member Jared Solomon, a Democrat from Northeast Philadelphia, compared the impeachment effort to the GOP attempt to invalidate the state’s electoral votes for Joe Biden in the 2020 presidential race.

“This impeachment effort is just the latest maneuver to undermine the will of Philadelphia voters,” said Reggie Shuford, executive director of the ACLU of Pennsylvania, in a statement distributed by the DAO.

The resolution advanced on a party-line vote, and none of the committee’s Republican members represent districts in the city. But White, who is not on the committee, and others argued that crime in Philadelphia is an issue for tourists and is spreading to nearby counties.

“This is not about Philadelphia,” Rep. Jerry Knowles, a Republican from Schuylkill County, said. “This is about the Commonwealth of Pennsylvania, and the people that we all represent.”

Democratic Rep. Mike Zabel, of Delaware County, voted in September to hold Krasner in contempt after he refused to provide documents requested in a House subpoena; however, he called voting to impeach Krasner a dangerous step.

“This doesn’t fit any legal precedent in Pennsylvania or in the entire country. We’re setting down a new path,” Zabel said. “Nowhere in these is a single act that justifies the drastic remedy of impeachment.”

The last elected official who was successfully convicted following impeachment was state Supreme Court Justice Rolf Larsen, who was removed from his position in 1994.

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