After career for defense, likely Philly DA winner moves to preclude conflicts of interest

 Larry Krasner speaks to the media on May 17, 2017, the day after he won the Democratic nomination for Philadelphia district attorney. (Emma Lee/WHYY, file)

Larry Krasner speaks to the media on May 17, 2017, the day after he won the Democratic nomination for Philadelphia district attorney. (Emma Lee/WHYY, file)

Larry Krasner has represented criminal defendants and people suing the police for 24 years.

Krasner, who won the Democratic nomination for district attorney in Philadelphia’s May 16 primary election, faces Republican Beth Grossman in the Nov. 7 general election. In a city where Democrats vastly outnumber registered Republicans, it’s widely expected thst Krasner will prevail at the polls.

And if he does becomes Philadelphia’s next district attorney, there’s a pretty good chance his office will end up prosecuting someone Krasner once represented.

He is now starting to take steps to grapple with potential conflicts of interest that may arise.

  • WHYY thanks our sponsors — become a WHYY sponsor

“It’s important to not even have the appearance of impropriety. It is absolutely essential so people have trust in the process,” said defense lawyer Ron Greenblatt.

Greenblatt’s firm — Greenblatt, Pierce, Funt & Flores — will be merging with Krasner’s practice, so that if Krasner wins, he will not run a private practice firm while serving as the city’s top prosecutor.

Currently, about half of Greenblatt’s work is criminal, but not all of it involves the Philadelphia district attorney’s office. The lawyers in Greenblatt’s firm have clients facing federal criminal charges and defendants in criminal proceedings in South Jersey and other jurisdictions.

For Krasner, the agreement keeps him “of counsel,” meaning he can consult on cases he started, though he will not be making court appearances or filing paperwork on behalf of those clients. That relationship would end, however, if Krasner is elected.

Under that likely outcome, Greenblatt said the firm and the DA’s office will ask the Philadelphia Board of Ethics for guidance on how to deal with former clients of Krasner’s.

In some cases, the Pennsylvania attorney general’s office could step in and take on a case Krasner is too close to, Greenblatt said.

In other instances, Greenblatt said, there would be a wall between Krasner and the assistant district attorneys handling the case.

“But a wall is different,” he said. “A wall would be that the DA’s Office still handles it, but it’s done in such a way that Krasner would have no input into it.”

And it will depend on the situation. For instance, if Krasner represented someone 20 years ago who was arrested on marijuana possession and the case was dropped, there might not be a conflict. If charges involve someone Krasner represented just last year on a major case, Greenblatt said, that may create a problem.

It could present an issue for prosecutors and for Greenblatt’s firm, which will soon have dozens of open cases Krasner first worked on.

“I don’t think it will be a blanket ‘no client of my firm can be prosecuted by the DA’s office,'” Greenblatt said.

Attorney circles can often feel small, and conflicts are not unusual, Greenblatt noted. If a defense attorney becomes a judge and a former client steps into that judge’s courtroom, for instance, giving the case to another judge is usually considered the right thing to do.

And if the city ethics board takes an extreme stance and advises that no former client of Krasner’s should be prosecuted by the district attorney’s office, that’s the recomendation that will be followed, Greenblatt noted. 

“Whatever the guidance is will be accepted, and those will be the rules,” he said.

Want a digest of WHYY’s programs, events & stories? Sign up for our weekly newsletter.

Together we can reach 100% of WHYY’s fiscal year goal