Philadelphia District Attorney Seth Williams has agreed to temporarily suspend his law license a week after federal authorities filed a 23-count corruption indictment against him.
And, despite widespread calls for his resignation, Williams said he will not step down from office before his terms ends in December.
Williams was in court on Friday to announce his new defense attorney. It came after a dramatic hearing earlier in the week when his former lawyer asked to quit, citing the Williams’ inability to pay.
Federal prosecutors allege that Williams abused his office by accepting money and gifts in exchange for favors in his official capacity. In addition, prosecutors claim Williams stole money — including funds from his elderly mother — to support his lavish lifestyle.
But his new defense attorney, Thomas Burke, said the indictment doesn’t show that Williams did anything wrong.
“It is devoid of a single allegation that a quid-pro-quo took place,” Burke said of the charges, which came about after federal authorities seized more than 80,000 documents and 300,000 emails from Williams.
Burke cited a U.S. Supreme Court case that narrowed the definition of what constitutes an “official act” in corruption cases, making it more difficult for prosecutors to prevail in allegations of corruption.
Although he did not mention it by name, he was likely referring to the high court vacating the corruption conviction of former Virginia Gov. Bob McDonnell in 2015.
The indictment against Williams includes bribery violations according to Pennsylvania law, not federal law, a decision that experts said was deliberate.
But Burke said he is confident Williams will beat the charges.
“The indictment does not contain a single allegation that the outcome of a single case prosecuted by my client’s office was affected,” Burke said. “We look forward to refuting the allegations and to the day that Mr. Williams is cleared of this behavior.”
Over the years, Burke has contributed at least $6,000 to Williams’ campaign funds, according to records.
He declined to answer reporters’ questions after reading a statement outside of the federal courthouse, including a question about his donations to Williams.
But as wind whipped and rain poured down, a man carrying a large umbrella had this to say to Williams: “Seth, you betrayed the trust of the black community.”
Williams didn’t address the man — or reporters. Without a law license, Williams will run the DA’s Office in “an administrative capacity,” Burke said.
U.S. Magistrate Judge Timothy Rice told Burke that if he quits before trial, there could be consequences — including allegations that Williams is delaying his own trial — that could result in Williams’ bail being revoked.
Burke told Rice he understood, saying it would not become an issue.
“Short of my death and getting beamed up by the aliens, I’m in it until the end,” Burke said.