Marking the end of his first week in office, Philadelphia District Attorney Larry Krasner has fired more than 30 employees, including top prosecutors.
The office declined to comment about who had been asked to resign, but according to numerous sources several top officials were asked to resign, along with line assistant district attorneys and prosecutors in midlevel management positions. Two sources said the homicide unit in particular lost several top attorneys.
In an announcement issued late Friday, the office said that 31 employees had been asked to leave effective Friday.
“Change is never easy, but DA Krasner was given a clear mandate from the voters for transformational change,” office spokesman Ben Waxman said in a statement to the press. “Today’s actions are necessary to achieve that agenda. He looks forward to working as a team with the dedicated, talented, and hardworking employees of the DAO to make it the best prosecutorial office in the nation.”
Reactions from the defense bar and people familiar with the office were mixed Friday, with some calling the news “horrific,” and others expressing excitement. Practitioners also braced for a potentially chaotic Jan. 8, and questioned whether the changes will cause longer-term disruptions.
Adding to the confusion was the fact that the criminal courthouse in Philadelphia had been closed due to weather.
“Who’s going to fill their shoes? Who am I going to be dealing with?” defense attorney William Brennan said. “My 30-year Rolodex is now a paper roll.”
Brennan added that he was confident Krasner will select good prosecutors to fill the now vacant positions, but he said the office has also lost several dedicated and talented prosecutors.
“A lot of those people I have immense personal respect for, and in my opinion they served the city of Philadelphia like soldiers,” he said.
Former prosecutor Richard Sax, who spent 37 years focusing on prosecuting homicide cases in the DA’s Office before retiring in April, had harsher words about the changes.
“It’s a horrific depletion of talent, dedication and institutional knowledge,” Sax said. “He’s done a horrible thing to the city and a horrible thing to the victims of crime.”
However, several defense attorneys also hailed the moves as the first step in Krasner fulfilling his promise of bringing significant changes to the office, and said that firing deputies and chiefs within the office could help refocus the office’s resources toward the trial attorneys in the office.
“I think, what he’s going to do is he’s going to be the best man for the resources he has,” defense attorney A. Charles Peruto Jr. said. “I think people are going to be pleasantly surprised.”
Defense attorney Chris Montoya of Montoya Coleman said Monday could be a hectic day, and that it could be especially problematic if any prosecutors were let go who were assigned to handle particular rooms in the courthouse. However, he said he feels the changes will be good in the long run.
“I think that change needed to come to the DA’s Office,” he said.
Krasner promised sweeping reforms to the office during his campaign, and recently told several members of the defense bar that achieving those goals would require staff changes, particularly in the mid- to upper-management levels.
The office’s spokesman declined to comment when asked if more staffing changes would be happening in the coming weeks.