That was the message from the House Select Committee on Restoring Law and Order to the Pennsylvania Commonwealth Court regarding filings from District Attorney Larry Krasner requesting protection from their subpoenas.
“Even if the Court were inclined to preemptively address Petitioners’ claims, the claims fail as a matter of law because (i) the Select Committee is empowered to conduct investigations, including investigating civil offices and officials such as the District Attorney’s Office and District Attorney Krasner, and, under separation of powers principles, a court should not interfere with such investigations,” the committee wrote in a Thursday filing.
The dispute began with Krasner’s attorneys asking a judge to quash the subpoena and issue a protective order that would protect the progressive district attorney from “any additional contempt proceedings as well as unreasonable annoyance, embarrassment, oppression, burden or expense.”
The Krasner’s attorneys fear lawmakers could enforce the contempt finding by possibly having him arrested, and they denounced the entire impeachment effort as “political gamesmanship,” the records show. Krasner says he has already turned over hundreds of pages of records, many of them already publicly available, on how his office operates on policies of crime, bail, probation, parole, and reducing the jail population.
But he has so far refused to turn over the grand jury transcripts and the investigative case file for Ryan Pownall, a Philadelphia police officer awaiting trial for the on-duty 2017 shooting of David Jones. That document request was a part of the committee’s August 9 subpoena.
Turning over those files would violate state law requiring such records be kept confidential and could “undermine” the prosecution of Pownall, who is set to go on trial in November, “and future defendants as well,” Krasner’s attorney’s claimed.
The district attorney’s legal team suggested those documents are outside of the scope of the House’s resolution, which focused on Philadelphia’s rising crime rates, crime victims, public funding for prosecuting those crimes, and helping victims of gun violence.
Krasner’s office has also fought lawmakers on providing a so-called “privilege log” of withheld documents, calling that request “unduly burdensome.”
“To date, the Select Committee has not provided any legal authority for its request for grand jury materials and the DAO’s ‘complete case file’ in a pending case,” Krasner’s attorney, John Summers wrote. The DAO cannot and will not break the law in order to comply with the Select Committee’s (improper) subpoena.”
The committee rejected those arguments in its filing to the court.
“The subpoena expressly states that it does not call for the production of any privileged documents,” the committee wrote. “Moreover, Petitioners do not allege that they have produced privileged documents or a log asserting any privileges.
“In short, the petition seeks to protect ‘privileged’ documents that have not been requested and prevent a legislative action that has not occurred.”
The latest court salvo comes after the impeachment of Krasner took center stage last week.
Committee members heard testimony from witnesses on how Krasner alleged “soft on crime” policies have hampered public safety in crime-plagued Philadelphia and data advocates that showed the overall conviction for certain gun offenses was at 77 percent, down from the statewide average of 83 percent.
The city set a record in 2021 with 562 homicides and has already tallied another 416 in 2022.
“Krasner’s office has failed us,” said Karen McConnell, who was one of several relatives of homicide victims who shared their stories to lawmakers on the first day of the hearing at the Philadelphia Navy Yard.
She lost her granddaughter, Jailene Holton, in June after a man fired 15 shots into the Philly Bar and Restaurant in Northeast Philadelphia and blamed the progressive district attorney for “pacifying these criminals.”
Krasner has maintained that he hasn’t committed an impeachable offense, as outlined by the state constitution, and that lawmakers are targeting him because they disagree with his policies.
Progressive district attorneys in other states have faced similar backlash, and his supporters staged their disapproval of the hearings with a fake “circus” outside, complete with jugglers and clowns.
Krasner’s legal team said it asked lawmakers to withdraw its initial subpoena request and issue “a new one that does not demand improper materials” but the committee refused to do so.
It voted last month to hold the district attorney in contempt while the current lawsuit was pending before the court.
Meanwhile, the committee insists that whatever the outcome, it is a fight between the legislature and Krasner and should not involve the judiciary.
“Petitioners ask the court to substitute its judgment for the General Assembly’s judgment with regard to the select committee’s ongoing investigation regarding the rising rates of crime, the enforcement of criminal laws, and the enforcement of crime victims’ rights in the City of Philadelphia and consideration of the potential impeachment of District Attorney Krasner,” the committee said.
“Such relief would violate the separation of powers doctrine and Petitioners’ claims are, therefore, nonjusticiable.”
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