HARRISBURG, Pa. (AP) — Philadelphia's elected prosecutor asked a state court Friday to halt a Republican-led effort to remove him from office, arguing that the process ended when the Legislature's two-year session ran out earlier in the week.
District Attorney Larry Krasner, a Democrat, wants Commonwealth Court to declare that the General Assembly lacks constitutional authority to remove local officials like him — as opposed to state officials — and that the claims against him do not amount to the “misbehavior in office" required for impeachment.
Philadelphia, not the state House or Senate, has oversight over potential impeachment and removal of its district attorney, the lawsuit claims.
Krasner sued the Senate's top-ranking Republican, Sen. Kim Ward of Westmoreland County, unnamed members of the Senate committee that will oversee the case and the three impeachment managers designated by the House of Representatives.
“Never before has the legislature exercised its power to impeach and remove someone duly elected twice for things that do not come close to a crime,” Krasner's lawyers told the court. “And never before has the statewide legislature exercised its power to impeach a locally elected officer like District Attorney Krasner."
Ward’s spokesperson, Erica Clayton Wright, said Friday that the filing was under review and a response will be made “once we have had time to evaluate the case.” Clayton Wright has previously said congressional impeachment proceedings have spanned more than one legislative session.
The state House voted on nearly party lines to impeach Krasner on Nov. 16, sending the matter to the state Senate for trial next month. Removal will require support from two-thirds of senators, a tall order in the politically divided chamber.
All but one of the House Republicans voted in favor of impeachment, a move driven by opposition to the progressive policies Krasner has pursued during a time of rising violent crime in the city. All Democrats voted against it.
Krasner was overwhelmingly reelected by Philadelphia voters last year and is not accused of breaking the law.
The argument for his removal includes his failure to prosecute some minor crimes and his bail request policies, criticism of his management of the DA's office and reports his office did not properly notify crime victims about developments in some cases. House Republicans also assert that Krasner obstructed the House investigation.
Krasner has called the move a “drastic remedy” that lacks “a single shred of evidence connecting our policies to any uptick in crime.”
Democrats said lawmakers have only removed two officials — both of them judges — through impeachment: the first a county judge in 1811 and then state Supreme Court Justice Rolf Larsen in 1994.
Larsen was impeached after the state Supreme Court had removed him from the bench following a felony conviction, Krasner's lawyers wrote.
“Here, the District Attorney of Philadelphia has been impeached by a lame-duck House based primarily on policy disagreements, which could not be more different than the criminal conduct at issue” in Larsen's case, they wrote.
Last month, Republican House Speaker Bryan Cutler of Lancaster County named Republican Reps. Tim Bonner of Mercer County and Craig Williams of Delaware County, and Democratic Rep. Jared Solomon of Philadelphia, to manage the Senate trial. Solomon voted against impeachment.
Williams said the filings were expected. “If I were him, I'd be quite concerned, too," he said.
Solomon said Friday that he has not read the filings and that he is involved to ensure fairness.
“This is an attempt by Trump-style Republicans to once again blow out the votes of residents in Philadelphia,” Solomon said from New York, where he was attending the annual Pennsylvania Society political event. “If it can happen in Philadelphia, it can happen in any one of our 67 counties. We need to protect democracy and that's what I’m in the room to do.”
Bonner said he had not reviewed the filing and so declined to comment.
The Senate has given Krasner until Dec. 21 to file an answer, and the trial is set to start Jan. 18. The GOP won a 28-22 Senate majority last month, although one Republican has since resigned.
Brooke Schultz, a corps member for the Associated Press/Report for America Statehouse News Initiative. contributed. Report for America is a nonprofit national service program that places journalists in local newsrooms to report on undercovered issues.