The Office of the District Attorney, an organization designed to fight corruption and crime, is being led by a criminal defendant.
Philadelphia District Attorney Seth Williams was recently indicted on 23-counts of bribery and related charges. According to the indictment, Williams is accused of accepting bribes in exchange for professional favors. He is also accused of stealing from his mother’s nursing home fund.
The charges were announced by federal law enforcement officials from the Department of Justice, the FBI, the IRS’s criminal investigation division, and U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement’s homeland security investigations division.
The two-term Democrat has been reported as saying he got into financial problems after a divorce and he apologized to his staff members for “regrettable mistakes” in his personal and financial life. He also said his actions “cast an unnecessary shadow” on the office that distracted staff members from the pursuit of justice.
Williams continues to report for duty. Despite the indictment he has not stepped down from his post. The Pennsylvania Disciplinary Board has suspended his law license. He is not a lame duck DA as seven Democrats and one Republican seek to replace him in the May 16, 2017 primary.
Williams, elected District Attorney of Philadelphia on November 3, 2009, became the first African American District Attorney of Philadelphia and in the entire Commonwealth of Pennsylvania. He was indicted on March 22 and he remains in the $175,000-a-year job. However, his law license has been suspended and he is not seeking a third term. Seven Democrats and a Republican are jostling to succeed him in the wide-open May 16 primary.
This is not the first time that Williams draws the attention of the media. Therefore, he was recently charged to pay $62,000 in penalties after agreeing to a settlement with Philadelphia’s Ethics Board. The fine is the largest in the 10-year history of Philadelphia’s Ethics Board. Williams also brought similar charges against a number of Democratic state representatives just two years ago.
Governor Tom Wolf stated on the case: “It is beyond time for him to step down immediately. (…) The people of Philadelphia need a district attorney fully focused on, and legally capable of, executing the important duties of the top law enforcement official in Pennsylvania’s largest city. His resignation will allow the employees of the office to focus on their work and help the citizens they serve move on.”
A prosecutor is held to a higher standard than other attorneys in our legal system due to the great responsibility that comes with the position. In this case, Williams has not only repeatedly failed to answer the call to do what is right, but he’s stolen from the innocent.
Williams’ prosecution is being handled by the U.S. Attorney’s Office for New Jersey, after Justice Department officials in Philadelphia recused themselves because of their frequent collaboration with the District Attorney’s Office.