Capitol Beat

House votes to hold Krasner in contempt for subpoena refusal

The Philadelphia District Attorney’s office has declined to produce documents requested by the committee via subpoena, stating their investigation is not being done ‘in good faith.’

Philadelphia District Attorney Larry Krasner

Philadelphia District Attorney Larry Krasner Mark Makela/Getty Images

The ongoing dispute between lawmakers in Harrisburg and Democratic Philadelphia District Attorney Larry Krasner has reached a new level of contempt – contempt of the House, that is. 

The chamber voted 162-38 Tuesday afternoon to adopt House Resolution 227 – a resolution to hold Krasner in contempt of the House for refusing to comply with legislative subpoenas – just after voting down a motion by Democrats to table the resolution until Krasner’s petition in Commonwealth Court is decided. 

The Philadelphia district attorney has been under fire from Republican state legislators, who blame his progressive policies for the city’s gun violence crisis. 

Earlier Tuesday, the House Select Committee on Restoring Law and Order – the legislative committee created in June by the Republican-controlled legislature to investigate gun violence and law enforcement during Krasner’s tenure – unanimously moved to recommend holding Krasner in contempt of the House for his refusal to comply with the committee’s subpoenas. 

Two Philadelphia Democrats, state Reps. Amen Brown and Danilo Burgos, were among the committee members who approved the recommendation, while dozens of other Democrats joined GOP lawmakers in voting to adopt HR 227.  

The select committee met in Harrisburg on Tuesday to issue an interim report on the committee’s actions thus far. In the report, the committee revealed its communications with Krasner’s office, including attempts to issue subpoenas and responses received from Krasner’s office. 

After refusing to comply with the subpoenas served repeatedly throughout the month of August, Krasner and his office filed a petition in Commonwealth Court on Sept. 2 seeking to block the committee’s subpoena. As a result, the committee issued its interim report Tuesday along with further recommendations for the state House to consider contempt proceedings. 

The report noted that Krasner’s office declined to accept hand delivery of the subpoena on Aug. 3 and 9 before accepting the document via email on the second attempt. 

Krasner’s office responded to the committee by stating that its efforts and subpoena “repudiate the law of this commonwealth – as well as the rule of law more generally – by serving no valid legislative purpose, violating the separation of powers, invading legal privileges and seeking to deny the constitutional rights of Philadelphia’s citizens.”

State Rep. Torren Ecker, one of the five lawmakers appointed to the select committee, said members did not come to the decision to hold Krasner’s office in contempt lightly. 

“This committee is steadfast in its intention to get to the bottom of the current unrest in Philadelphia and being denied access to important documents hinders progress in achieving that goal,” Ecker, a Republican from Adams County, said in a statement. 

Jessica Brand, a spokesperson for Krasner, said Tuesday the committee is acting outside of the law. 

“The Pennsylvania Supreme Court has said that when a party receives a subpoena that it believes is improper – as we do – you should seek review in court. That is exactly what we have done,” Brand said. “It is telling that the ‘Select Committee on Restoring Law and Order’ refuses to follow it.”

The Republican-controlled General Assembly adopted House Resolution 216 in June to establish the Select Committee on Restoring Law and Order. The bill, introduced by state Rep. Joshua Kail, coincided with calls from GOP members to impeach Krasner. With a rise in violent crime in the city, the resolution created the committee to investigate, review and draft a report on Krasner’s tenure. Four Democrats joined Republicans in voting for the resolution, including three from the City of Philadelphia: state Reps. Joe Hohenstein, Kevin Boyle and Ed Neilson. 

The majority of Democrats in Harrisburg criticized the effort, and Krasner’s office called the initial impeachment attempts a “farce.” 

Krasner previously said he “can hardly imagine anything more anti-democratic and more authoritarian than people who do not even live in Philly throwing out Philadelphia’s elected officials after a free and fair election.” 

The latest communication between Krasner’s office and the committee, as shown in the report, was another declination from Krasner to comply with the subpoena. The letter states that the office should not be held in contempt of the House because the subpoena is “legally deficient on a number of levels” and that it was not issued in good faith. 

The vote is the latest move by Republicans in their efforts to impeach Krasner. For impeachment to take place, House lawmakers would have to approve the proposal by a majority vote and then the Senate would hold a trial, where a two-thirds majority vote is needed to convict.