DA Krasner defends staff change-up, introduces first batch of new leaders

Days after some 33 prosecutors were asked to leave the Philadelphia District Attorney’s office, newly sworn-in DA Larry Krasner defended the decision and introduced some of the recent hires who represent the “new culture” he is trying to introduce to the office. 

“You have to see that the people in the office are consistent with the mission,” Krasner said at a news conference on Tuesday. “The coach gets to pick the team.”

Problems with the prosecutors who were asked to resign ranged from courtroom tactics and conduct to their “fundamental ideology,” as Krasner put it. So what’s the new ideology? The same messages Krasner pushed in his campaign, he said: “We’re going to end mass incarceration. We’re going to move the criminal justice system in the direction of justice for a society as a whole.” 

Krasner noted that other law enforcement offices have had similar or even greater shake-ups after an election. Ed Rendell fired 25 percent of the staff after being elected DA, and Krasner said Pennsylvania Attorney General Josh Shapiro also fired dozens after taking office in 2017.

The AG’s office responded that Shapiro fired six employees in his first week in office. They could not immediately confirm the number of departures for the entire first year.

“We’re not privy to the ins and outs of the DA’s Office. Our transition was thoughtful and deliberative,” Shapiro’s spokesman Joe Grace said via email. “We inherited a fundamentally different situation and any comparison is unfounded.”

New hires for key positions at the DA’s office are still pending. But families caught up in the justice system are still fighting for the kind of justice Krasner promised during his campaign last year. Earlier on Tuesday, Philly woman Christine Riddick led a rally outside the DA’s office to demand that Krasner address the case of her son Eric Riddick, who has served 26 years for a murder case and recently lost an appeal.

The state’s Superior Court wrote in a Dec. 26 opinion that Riddick is probably innocent, but his conviction cannot be overturned “for no better reason than a poorly conceived statute.”

While declining to comment on the specific case, Krasner said more staff and new leadership for the conviction review unit are planned to fully address those types of concerns, once fully in place. (CityandStatePa.com reported Wednesday that sources indicated Patricia Cummings, a noted former Dallas County prosecutor, may be in talks to take over Philly’s Conviction Review Unit as of Feb. 1.) 

“The efforts made even before I was sworn in were made so we could move as quickly as possible toward having the right people in place in an office of 600 to do justice and be able to achieve the right outcome as quickly as possible,” Krasner said. “You have to bring a culture change. That involves bringing in the right people.”

New faces in Krasner’s office

Several new hires are in the pipeline, but so far leaders at Krasner’s office include:

Interim Supervisor of Victim Services Movita Johnson-Harrell, a social worker who has fought against gun violence through Heeding God’s Call and the CHARLES Foundation, named after her son who lost his life to gun violence in a case of mistaken identity. 

Chief of staff Arun Prabakharan, a former vice president at the Urban Affairs Coalition, where he helped manage some $35 million in funds. He may be able to help the DA’s office tap into grants for criminal justice reform projects, Krasner said. 

Interim Director of Litigation Mike Lee, one of the founders of Philadelphia Lawyers for Social Equity, where he helped expand criminal record expungement. 

Interim Chief of the Homicide Unit Anthony Voci, a former Philly homicide prosecutor and private defense attorney who is returning to the DA’s office (and moving back to Philly to do so)

Interim Supervisor of the Law Department Nancy Winkelman, an appellate attorney in private practice who is leaving the private sector (and moving to Philly) to work in public service for the first time.

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