Senate Judiciary Committee Advances Legislation to Clarify Qualifications for District Attorneys and the Attorney General of Pennsylvania

 

(HARRISBURG) – The Senate Judiciary Committee, today, advanced two pieces of legislation to bring greater transparency, clarity and stability to the offices of District Attorneys and office of Attorney General, according to chairwoman Senator Lisa Baker (R-20).

Senate Bill 420, sponsored by Senator Gene Yaw (R-23), amends Sections 1401 and 1404 of the County Code to require that district attorneys in counties of the first through eighth classes have an active license to practice law.  The bill provides that if a District Attorney is disbarred, they are no longer qualified to be DA, and the office of the DA will be vacant.  If a DA is suspended from the practice of law, the bill provides that the DA is also suspended from the office of District Attorney until the earlier to occur of the next election or the date that the suspension is lifted. SB 420 is supported by the District Attorneys Association, and was unanimously passed by the committee, as amended.

“Currently, there is no clear requirement that a person elected to the office of District Attorney possess an active license to practice law at the time of entering office, which SB  420 will require,” Senator Yaw said.  “My bill would also establish safeguards so that the office of District Attorney would continue to operate uninterrupted in the event of a suspension of the law license or disbarment from the practice of law of a sitting District Attorney.  It would provide needed uniformity and efficiency to current law and for those who discharge the duties of the office.  It will assure the citizens that the integrity expected in the office of District Attorney is maintained.”

Senate Bill 457, sponsored by Senator Baker, is a constitutional amendment that clarifies the qualifications needed for an individual to hold the office of Attorney General of Pennsylvania. The amendment would make clear that if an Attorney General is disbarred, that individual is no longer qualified for the position, and the office would be declared vacant.  Additionally, if an Attorney General’s license to practice law is suspended, he or she would likewise be suspended from the office of Attorney General, unless and until the license is reinstated.  In this instance, the First Deputy Attorney General would assume the role of Acting Attorney General.  If the First Deputy is unable, unqualified, or unwilling to perform the duties of the Attorney General, the Director of the Criminal Law Division would execute these responsibilities.  As a constitutional amendment, this legislation needs to be passed by the General Assembly in two consecutive sessions and then presented to voters on the ballot. SB 457, as amended, was unanimously passed by the committee.

“Providing transparency and stability when it comes to the office of Attorney General is crucial to guaranteeing confidence in our legal system,” Senator Baker said.  “I am pleased to work with my colleagues to advance this important legislation that will help to ensure the most qualified individuals are protecting and serving within our justice system.”

            SB 420 and SB 457 now advance to the full Senate for consideration.

 

Media Contact: Kate Flessner kflessner@pasen.gov