According to last Friday’s “Philly Clout” column, District Attorney Larry Krasner thinks it amusing to spread as widely as possible an “office joke” that describes as “war criminals” former assistant district attorneys who left the office during the last couple of years to join the Pennsylvania attorney general’s criminal division.
Elaborating on this “joke,” Krasner asserted that some of his staff refer to the AG’s Office as “Paraguay,” a not very subtle reference to one of the countries that welcomed high-ranking Nazi war criminals fleeing to avoid prosecution after World War II.
Frankly, I find it hard to believe that any of the DA staff members I know and have worked with would make such unprofessional and defamatory comments or jokes about their former colleagues who are now working on the AG’s staff.
Sadly, however, I don’t find it at all surprising that Krasner would do so. After all, this is not the first time he has used his office to trash the reputations of highly skilled, dedicated, and honorable former ADAs, some of whom he fired and some of whom left on their own to continue careers devoted to public service. It is the first time, however, that he has been so reckless and cruel as to invoke the memory of some of history’s worst war criminals – and a country that harbored them – in his efforts to smear the records and character of these women and men.
I have a much different opinion of the competence and character of these public-servant prosecutors. It is an opinion formulated by more than 20 years of experience as a criminal trial judge, including more than 15 years presiding over our court’s homicide and direct-file programs, where I observed most of the lawyers on “Larry’s list” investigate, prepare, and try some of the most serious and difficult cases in Philadelphia’s criminal justice system. It is an opinion also formulated by serving as Philadelphia’s chief public defender for 15 years, where I learned the difference (and the importance of distinguishing) between aggressive but professional, ethical and compassionate prosecutors and those who would do anything to secure a conviction regardless of facts and law.
I know and have worked with most of the former ADAs who are now on the attorney general’s staff. These lawyers include the former chief of the DA’s Homicide Unit, who led the office’s first successful effort to significantly reduce the number of capital cases in our court, and the former pre-trial chief whose positive contribution to the city and the First Judicial District of Pennsylvania’s successful pursuit of a MacArthur Foundation grant was instrumental in beginning the reduction of Philadelphia’s pre-trial prison population – a reduction that began well before the current DA took office.
As a group, these former Philadelphia prosecutors represent the best of their profession. They are diligent, skillful, and highly honorable. They are committed to the pursuit of justice for all of us. That is why they have devoted their professional lives to public service. They deserve honor and appreciation for their work even when they advocate for positions with which my judicial colleagues and I disagree. Most assuredly, they do not deserve to be made the subject of disgusting, defamatory comments, regardless of anyone’s disingenuous efforts to pass these comments off as an “office joke.”