Big firms often stop on campuses to try to woo law students seeking employment, but Philadelphia District Attorney Larry Krasner came to campus to personally recruit Penn Law School students.
On Monday, the city's chief law enforcement officer spoke to students at Penn Law's Gittis Hall as part of an ongoing tour of America’s top law schools to recruit “the best and brightest” for the Philadelphia DA's office.
Krasner posed the question, "Is it moral to be a prosecutor?" several times throughout the event, discussing his vision and philosophy as a self-proclaimed progressive prosecutor in America’s sixth-most populous city. “In light of the reality that [the criminal justice system] is a system that is racist, that steps on the necks of poor people … is it moral?”
Krasner said he wants to do for prosecution "what Steve Jobs did to the cell phone" by transforming the DA's office into a "progressive prosecutor's office … like nothing you've ever seen before, like a cell phone."
To help accomplish this, he hopes to hire empathetic and fair prosecutors by hosting a training program at his office designed for student recruits to build skills like "exercising direction, reading a file closely, and drawing appropriate inferences."
Not many current lawyers at the DA office are from Penn, Krasner said. He is also visiting several top law schools at Harvard University, Yale University, New York University, and Columbia University to recruit new employees.
During the event, Krasner emphasized that those who would like to see the criminal justice system be more fair to ethnic minorities and the poor should become prosecutors and ultimately help dispense more fair justice, themselves.
"I respectfully suggest that there's value in doing the murky work," Krasner said. "There's value in doing work in the job that makes you feel a little uncomfortable."
He brought up the fact that the DA's office has been pushing back against United States Immigration and Customs Enforcement's attempts to "help Trump carry out his immigration policy" in deporting undocumented immigrants.
"I don't feel like helping," Krasner said.
The Philadelphia DA's office has stopped sharing a database of criminal information with ICE which "expedites how quickly ICE can go after an immigrant after that person is arrested," Krasner added.
After taking office earlier this year without prior experience as a prosecutor, Krasner dismissed 31 staffers from the Philadelphia DA's office within his first week as part of a reorganization of the office’s structure.
Since arriving at the DA’s office, he has avoided the death penalty and avoided cash bails in non-violent offenders’ trials.
Running on a progressive campaign, the former defense attorney had sued government agencies and law enforcement groups on more than 75 occasions, Vox reported. He has worked with organizations like Black Lives Matter, Occupy Philadelphia, DACA Dreamers, and anti-gun clergy with Heeding God’s Call, frequently representing protestors pro-bono.
During his campaign, his positions have garnered both acclaim and skepticism on Penn’s campus. Justin Pendleton, a law student who attended Krasner’s talk, found Krasner’s approach to prosecution “really refreshing" and that it shed "a different light on what prosecution in the criminal justice system could be.”
At the event, Krasner described “progressive prosecution” as a national movement, highlighting the actions of other like-minded district attorneys including Kimberly Foxx of Chicago, Kim Ogg of Houston, and Beth McCann of Denver.
Christine Carpenter, a first-year law student at Penn, said she definitely got a more positive impression of criminal prosecution.
"If anyone in this room wasn’t sure what kind of law they’d go into he probably did a good job of winning them over," she said. “It’s good for getting people into a position where they’re going to effect real change.”
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