BY AUSTIN NOLEN – THE DECLARATION
The 2017 race for Philadelphia’s next District Attorney has become a referendum on the criminal justice system as a whole. The candidates are vying over whose ideas can best fix the city’s law enforcement problems
One of the greatest criminal justice challenges Philadelphia faces, from the District Attorney to other players such as the police and the courts, is a lack of transparency. Yet the candidates have been asked few questions about what they plan to do to increase the sunshine on their operations.
The Declaration reached out to all eight candidates and received varying responses from six, discussing their philosophies and practical plans for openness in office.
The District Attorney’s Office can’t set a standard for transparency in Philadelphia law enforcement if its own operations are completely opaque. Yet, for years, the Office and its occupants have cared little about the ability of the public to understand their work.
Take the case of Ryan Bagwell. Bagwell is a Penn State alumnus who campaigns for greater transparency at the university.
As we previously reported, Bagwell filed a Right to Know request for technical email records to support a separate RTKL lawsuit against the DA for the emails of Frank Fina. Fina, later infamous for Porngate, helped investigate the Jerry Sandusky case before joining the DA’s Office.
The DA denied this request on grounds that have been rejected by every judge to look at the case. First, the state Office of Open Records ordered the technical documents released.
When the District Attorney appealed, the Court of Common Pleas fined the Office for its bad faith. The Commonwealth Court affirmed that fine on appeal.
Even then, however, the DA filed a request for a reargument, unable to accept its error. That petition for a rehearing was denied last month.
The candidates offered different plans to fix this contempt for the public’s right to know. Larry Krasner asserted that, as District Attorney, he would only seek to withhold information that could undermine criminal investigations.
“It is vital that we change the current culture within the District Attorney’s Office,” Krasner told The Declaration. “This naturally includes a shift in attitude within the Office’s Right to Know unit.”