In 1993, Justice Rolf Larsen of the Pennsylvania Supreme Court got himself into some trouble. Larsen, a Democrat from Allegheny County was first elected to Pennsylvania’s highest court in 1977 to a ten year term. He was retained for another ten year term in 1987.
Larsen was chargedin 1993 with one count of criminal conspiracy and 26 counts of fraudulently obtaining a controlled substance according to the New York Times. Larsen, who had been prescribed medication for anxiety and depression since the 1960s, arranged for his doctor to write prescriptions to Court employees. Larsen did not want the public to know he was taking the prescription medication.
On April 9, 1994, a jury found Larsen guilty of two counts of criminal conspiracy. On June 13, 1994, he was sentenced to one year of probation. At the time of his conviction, Larsen was the next in line to become Chief Justice on the basis of his seniority.
As a result of his conviction, the House of Representatives decided Larsen should be impeached. Larsen refused to step down on his own accord. The House turned to Attorney John Moses.
“The first problem the House encountered was the fact that they had not impeached a justice since the early 1800s,” Moses said. “They had no procedural rules.” Moses volunteered his time to help draft the procedural rules on impeachment. Once the rules were drafted, the House appointed Moses majority counsel and J. Clayton Undercoffler, III minority counsel.
“The House voted unanimously, with one abstention to impeach Larsen and send the matter to the Pennsylvania Senate.” Moses said that once in the Senate, Larsen’s case “was delegated to the Senate Judiciary Committee to gather evidence for presentment to the full Senate.”
“There were seven counts of impeachment, the most serious been a charge of perjury before the Grand Jury which investigated Larsen the year before.” Moses recalled.
Larsen was represented by William Costopoulos, a well known and well respected criminal defense attorney from the Harrisburg area. Relying on his years of criminal defense work, Moses was particularly sensitive to defendant’s rights. He knew many criminal cases were overturned when prosecutors failed to provide full disclosure. “We turned over boxes upon boxes of evidence under Costopoulos’ request for discovery.”
Moses and Undercoffler shared time on the closing argument presented to the full Senate. When all was said and done, the Senate voted to convict Larsen on five of the seven counts and remove him from office.
Moses said he was careful to draft a “verdict slip” for the Senate which included a provision providing that Larsen “never again hold an office of public trust.” His caution came from lessons learned from the impeachment of federal judge Alcee Hastings, who revived a political career after his impeachment by being elected to Congress.
“The Larsen impeachment was by far the most interesting legal case of my career. It was also the only time I was a prosecutor.”
MORE TO COME