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January 26, 2023

Pa. House Republicans to appeal court ruling in effort to pursue impeachment trial against Philly D.A. Larry Krasner

Reps. Williams and Bonner believe the legislature has the sole authority to determine what counts as 'misbehavior in office'

Government Impeachment
Larry Krasner Impeachment Appeal Thom Carroll/For PhillyVoice

Pennsylvania House Reps. Craig Williams and Tim Bonner will appeal a Commonwealth Court ruling that led to the indefinite postponement of the state Senate's impeachment trial against District Attorney Larry Krasner.

After the Pennsylvania Senate indefinitely postponed its impeachment trial against Philadelphia District Attorney Larry Krasner this month following a Commonwealth Court ruling that called the proceedings into question, House Republicans are preparing to file an appeal with the state Supreme Court in order to continue the trial. 

Following the House's vote in November to impeach the city's lead prosecutor over allegations that Krasner's progressive policies have contributed to a rise in crime across Philadelphia, Krasner filed a lawsuit against the impeachment committee, alleging that the impeachment effort was "unlawful" and would have "grave implications for the exercise of power by the legislature to target political dissenters."

On Dec. 30, Commonwealth Court ruled that none of the seven articles of impeachment against Krasner satisfy the state constitution's standards for "misbehavior in office." Though Judge Ellen Ceisler rejected Krasner's initial claim that the impeachment was unlawful, the ruling casted doubt on the Republican-led effort to remove the prosecutor from office, causing the state Senate to postpone the trial with an unanimous vote. 

The court partially ruled in favor of Krasner, though a concurring opinion from Judge Michael H. Wojcik on Jan. 12 argued some of the articles of impeachment should not be ruled on by the court at all, and should be ultimately solved by the legislature. 

Reps. Craig Williams and Tim Bonner, who serve as House impeachment managers, are using this opinion as the focus of their appeal to the state Supreme Court. 

They claim that the legislature has the "sole authority" to determine what actions constitute misbehavior in office, and believe that the court did not take into account evidence of specific actions they believe were performed with improper or corrupt motives. 

"There are specific instances of misuse of power which constitutes misbehavior in office, which were not addressed by the Commonwealth Court," Williams said. "Further, the evenly divided court opinion left unanswered whether certain articles of impeachment were upheld within the constitutional purview of the Pennsylvania Senate." 

In a news conference on Thursday, Williams and Bonner focused on one example that they believe fits the standard of misbehavior in office: the handling of the case against former Philadelphia police officer Ryan Pownall, who was charged with criminal homicide following the 2017 on-duty shooting of David Jones. 

In October, Common Pleas Court Judge Barbara A. McDermott dismissed all charges against Pownall in connection with the shooting, ruling that there were "so many things wrong" with how Krasner's office instructed grand jurors as they weighed whether to charge Pownall with murder in connection with the fatal shooting, the Inquirer reported. 

"In all my time as a prosecutor, I have never seen such deplorable conduct by someone charged with representing the safety and interests of the public," Williams said. "Misleading the grand jury about the law; hiding that fact from the supervising judge; circumventing due process rights to a preliminary hearing to further hide misleading the grand jury; seeking impermissible appeal to the Supreme Court to retroactively make unlawful what was lawful when it was done; and concealing exculpatory evidence." 

The District Attorney's Office did not immediately respond to PhillyVoice's request for comment regarding the impending appeal, though Krasner has repeatedly decried the impeachment effort as a publicity stunt meant to silence the voices of Philadelphia voters who elected him as district attorney in 2017 and 2021. 

It remains unclear how or when the Senate will be able to resume the Republican-led impeachment effort against Krasner. Both chambers of the legislature are adjourned until at least Feb. 27 due to partisan gridlock in the House. 

House Speaker Mark Rozzi is currently on a statewide listening tour to get public feedback on how best to end the legislative deadlock and get back to work on passing a series of constitutional amendments

Rozzi will host a listening session at St. Joseph's University on Friday, Jan. 27. Pennsylvania residents who want to provide public comment can register here