Days after the Pennsylvania Senate set the stage for the first impeachment trial in nearly three decades, Philadelphia’s top prosecutor asked a state court to halt the proceedings, arguing that the process is politically motivated, unlawful, and outside the Legislature’s purview, reports the Pennsylvania Capital-Star.
District Attorney Larry Krasner, a Democrat who easily won re-election last year, asked Commonwealth Court on Friday to stop the Republican-backed process that could remove him from office after GOP lawmakers launched an investigation into him earlier this year.
During a virtual press conference on Monday, Krasner said efforts to impeach him play into the “national context of attacks on reform prosecutors” and “a more generalized authoritarian attack” to overturn elections.
“The authoritarian movement in this country, at the moment, is losing, and the authoritarian movement in this country against reform prosecution is losing,” Krasner said. “I repeat — you don’t have to do this stuff when you’re winning elections.”
The legal challenge came days after lawmakers in the upper chamber voted to formally accept the articles of impeachment from the Republican-controlled state House, which accuse Krasner of misbehavior in office and obstructing a legislative investigation, and took an oath to uphold the state Constitution during a trial that could begin in January.
The lawsuit names interim Senate President Pro Tempore Kim Ward, R-Westmoreland, the House impeachment managers, and the senators who will serve on the committee overseeing the case arguing that the impeachment efforts against Krasner “stands the Constitution and this commonwealth’s history on its head.”
The filing claims that the impeachment process should have expired on Nov. 30, when the two-year legislative session ended. The filing also argues that the Legislature does not have the constitutional authority to remove local officials from office, and alleges the charges against Krasner do not meet the standards for impeachment.
Krasner requested an expedited briefing in Commonwealth Court, citing a writ of summons formally notifying him of the charges approved by the Senate last week. Michael Satin, a lawyer for Krasner, said he does not know what the court will decide.
The writ of summons gave Krasner until Dec. 21 to file an answer to the upper chamber ahead of the trial.
Erica Clayton Wright, a spokesperson for Senate Republicans, told reporters in a statement that the caucus was reviewing the filing and would respond “once we have had time to evaluate the petition.”
The House Select Committee on Restoring Law and Order, which was formed in June to investigate and review rising crime rates in the state’s largest city, has focused on Krasner’s approach to prosecuting crime in Philadelphia. In September, the GOP-controlled panel conducted a series of public hearings with live testimony on gun violence.
Earlier this year, the House voted 162-38 to hold Krasner in contempt for refusing to respond to a subpoena issued by the GOP-controlled committee.
Krasner agreed to testify before the select committee. But there were conditions from the panel, including that the meeting would take place behind closed doors without a public live stream or audio recordings. While the committee would have a copy of the testimony, Krasner said he could not make a copy.
Krasner — who has urged lawmakers to focus on a statewide review of gun violence and increased crime through a public process — told reporters in October that Republicans were using impeachment as a “political stunt.” He added that lawmakers have not proven that his policies have contributed to increased crime in Philadelphia.
On Monday, Krasner said he “fully [intends] not to be silent” as the proceedings play out.
“We are proud of our policies. We are proud of our ideas. We are proud of our successes,” Krasner said. “We know some things about what is going on in the rest of the state that is, frankly, not flattering to their motivation to pursue all of this. We fully intend to respond.”
Removal from office requires a two-thirds majority vote, at least 34 lawmakers, in the Senate, meaning that some Democrats in the 50-member chamber would have to support the measure for it to succeed after what could be a lengthy and costly trial. Voters elected a Republican 28-22 majority during the November election, and a special election will take place next month to replace one GOP lawmaker who resigned.
Sen. Jimmy Dillon, D-Philadelphia, was the only member of his party to support the impeachment-related resolutions last week.
Senate Minority Leader Jay Costa, D-Allegheny, argued similar claims on the chamber floor, saying it would be “unconstitutional” to carry over impeachment proceedings from one session to the next two-year period. He also noted that voters elected a Democratic majority in the House during the Nov. 8 general election and said moving ahead with a trial would “undermine the voice of the people of this commonwealth.”
Only two officials in Pennsylvania have faced removal from office through the impeachment process. The most recent occurred in 1994.
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