Jan 5, 2023 - News

Questions linger over Krasner's impeachment trial

Philadelphia District Attorney Larry Krasner

Philadelphia District Attorney Larry Krasner. Photo: Mark Makela/Getty Images

Philadelphia District Attorney Larry Krasner's scheduled impeachment proceedings in the Senate are two weeks away. But state legislators won't say whether the process will move forward after a recent court decision found part of Republicans' case on shaky legal ground.

Driving the news: After the state Legislature started a new session this week, Erica Clayton Wright, a spokesperson for Senate Republicans, told Axios that members are reviewing the Commonwealth Court's Dec. 30 ruling and deciding on an "appropriate response."

  • Last week, Judge Ellen Ceisler ruled that none of the impeachment articles filed against Krasner rose to the level of "misbehavior in office" — the legal standard required by the state constitution to justify Krasner's removal.
  • Judge Ceisler also rejected Krasner's argument that the Legislature lacks the authority to remove local officials.

Why it matters: The ruling, which stemmed from a lawsuit Krasner filed last month, doesn't explicitly halt the district attorney's Senate trial, slated for Jan. 18.

  • But the decision has thrown a wrench in the process, a legal expert told Axios, and may set the stage for an appeal that could end up before the state Supreme Court.

Catch up fast: In November, the GOP-controlled House approved seven articles of impeachment against Krasner, a Democrat who's faced calls for removal from Republicans over the way his office prosecutes violent crime in Philly. The case was then sent to the Senate.

  • Krasner's legal challenge argued that legislators don't have authority to remove him from office, that impeachment proceedings shouldn't be allowed to stretch over two legislative sessions and that the claims against him don't amount to such action.

What they're saying: University of Pennsylvania law professor Claire Finkelstein told Axios that the court's decision left the "impeachment process hanging and members of the Pennsylvania Legislature baffled." She expects it'll be appealed.

  • Finkelstein questioned whether the court is encroaching upon separation of powers — a fundamental constitutional doctrine enabling each branch of government to function independently from another with checks and balances.
  • "That seems to me to usurp the prerogative of the Senate that has to vote on this," she said.

Krasner's office didn't respond to Axios' request for comment.

What we're watching: Ceisler's order mentions that an opinion laying out the legal basis for the decision is forthcoming. It has yet to be released.

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