Pennsylvania prosecutors are fighting a state lawmaker’s efforts to move her political corruption trial to Philadelphia.
State Sen. LeAnna Washington is charged with theft of services and conflict of interest for allegedly using state-paid staffers and taxpayer dollars – at least $30,000 – to plan an annual campaign fundraiser.
A grand jury indicted the veteran lawmaker in March. Charges were then filed in Montgomery County.
In a motion filed earlier this month, Washington asked that her trial be moved to Philadelphia from Montgomery County because that’s where the fundraiser was held, where her campaign committee is located and where witnesses live, among other things.
Henry Hockeimer, Washington’s attorney, said in an email Wednesday that he was not available for comment.
In a legal response filed this week, state prosecutors maintain that the case is not about the fundraiser, but the alleged criminal activities that unfolded in Harrisburg, Philadelphia and Montgomery County.
“The defendant can cite no reason why the residents in Montgomery County would not give her a fair and impartial trial,” writes Senior Deputy Attorney General Susan DiGiacomo.
At Washington’s preliminary hearing in March, former Senate employee Jamila Hill testified that she was instructed to work on the “birthday” party at the senator’s Philadelphia and Montgomery County offices during state time.
Veteran criminal defense lawyer Michael Engle, who is not part of the case, said, strategically, the change of venue motion makes sense.
Engle, who has worked in both jurisdictions, said the juries Washington would face at trial would be quite different depending on the location.
” [In Philadelphia], I think you’re going to see more of a diversity in terms of the individuals that will be on the jury panel. And, by and large, juries in Philadelphia tend to be a bit more liberal-minded and perhaps more defense-oriented than more conservative individuals in the counties,” said Engle.
A trial date has not yet been set.
After more than 20 years as a politician, Washington will step down from her post at the end of the year after losing a three-way race during May’s Democratic primary.