What’s in the Water in Pennsylvania?
A pattern of scandals, misconduct, and federal reversals seem to plague the state’s district attorneys.
Following a 7-month grand jury investigation, Mercer County, Penn. DA Miles Karson is preparing to fight more than a dozen criminal misdemeanor chargesrelated to allegedly using his power to gain preferential treatment for his girlfriend. The indictment’s 17 charges range from obstructing the administration of the law to hindering prosecution, and stem from allegations that 72-year-old Karson contacted a district judge, police chief, probation officer, crime victim, and others in an effort to gain a more lenient sentence for 39-year-old Tonya Bulboff, who was sentenced on reduced drug charges in early October, according to the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette.
In late October, state Attorney General Josh Shapiro called on Karson “to do the honorable thing and resign.” Instead, Karson maintained his innocence, telling the public that he has no intention of resigning.
“I can assure you that I have committed no offenses and I am anxious to fight the allegations made in the charges in court,” said Karson in a statement, adding that he intends to stay in office.
The DA is currently rounding out his third year of a four-year term. In spite of the growing chorus of public officials calling him for to step down, Karson seems intent on keeping his job until he’s forced to do otherwise. Though he might seem stubborn, his determination in the face of ample evidence of his guilt isn’t surprising in the broader context of elected officials in Pennsylvania’s justice system.
Take Stacy Parks Miller of Centre County, who lost the Democratic nomination in May in her bid for another term as district attorney. Over the course of her tenure in the office, she raised eyebrows for ethically questionable choices such as creating a fake Facebook account to spy on defendants and texting judges during trials to nudge them toward decisions in her favor, as reported by In Justice Today’s Jessica Pishko. Parks Miller also demanded that a paralegal fake a judge’s signature on a bail order. She’s now facing a complaint from the state bar for her misconduct.
Then there’s Cumberland Couny, Penn., the office where District Attorney David Freed hired Evan McLaren as a clerk in 2016. McLaren is now the executive director of the white supremacist-founded National Policy Institute. McLaren was one of the many white nationalists who marched through Charlottesville carrying a torch in protest of the removal of a Confederate statue in August. Freed has since promised to improve his office’s vetting process for prospective employees.
Most recently, former Philadelphia DA Seth Williams made headlines for being sentenced by a federal judge to five years in prison in a bribery and corruption case. Williams failed to report $175,000 in gifts from donors — an offense he ultimately pled guilty to. U.S. District Judge Paul S. Diamond berated Williams on his Oct. 24 sentencing: “Almost from the time you took office, you sold yourself to the parasites you surrounded yourself with. You humiliated the men and women of the District Attorney’s Office.”
Philadelphians will have the chance on election day to choose the next face of the county’s DA office. Candidate Larry Krasner — who many predict will win — stands far left of many of his predecessors, in spite of their professed commitments to criminal justice reform. With no previous experience as a prosecutor and, instead, a lengthy history of suing the Philadelphia Police Department, his popularity thus far seems to speak to the interests of an electorate that has had enough of the status quo, and is fed up with DAs whose commitment to progressive values reveal themselves to be skin-deep.