The defense lawyer representing indicted Philadelphia District Attorney Seth Williams walked into a federal courtroom Tuesday hoping he could stop representing Williams, since, as he told the judge, “I’ve received zero dollars and zero cents.”
Williams, who makes $175,000 a year but whose financial woes are publicly known, cannot afford to keep his defense attorney around.
But U.S. Magistrate Judge Timothy Rice had this to say to Williams’ now-regretful defense lawyer Mike Diamondstein: “That’s something you should have thought about last week.”
Federal authorities last week delivered a 23-count bribery and fraud indictment against Williams, who has for years been under investigation by the IRS and FBI.
He is accused of taking gifts in the form of foreign vacations, expensive furniture and a used Porsche in exchange for favors in his official capacity as the city’s top prosecutor. That help included taking steps to have a benefactor’s friend receive a more lenient punishment, according to the indictment.
Federal authorities also accuse Williams of bilking his elderly mother out of more than $20,000 by stealing public assistance payments intended for her nursing home.
And, despite a growing chorus of calls from everyone from Mayor Jim Kenney to the Fraternal Order of Police Lodge 5 for his resignation, Williams has indicated that he is staying put as the city’s chief law enforcement official.
All along, Diamondstein said, his plan was to represent Williams just for his arraignment, the first court appearance a day after the indictment was filed.
Yet Rice noted that once Diamondstein agreed to defend Williams, he committed to the whole case — from arraignment to verdict.
“I have found no law that allows you to withdraw your appearance,” Rice said.
If Williams does not have the means to pay for a private lawyer, the court will appoint a public defender. Rice said he can put Williams under oath and ask him questions about his personal finances.
Would Williams be interested in that, Rice asked.
“No, your honor,” Williams replied, saying Diamondstein was just attempting to “help out an old friend” by representing him.
Had he decided not to, Williams would have shown up to his arraignment without a lawyer, Diamondstein said.
“That happens every day,” Rice pointed out.
Williams has three days to come up with alternate counsel
Federal authorities filed a motion Tuesday in which they described the mountain of evidence collected from Williams during its years-long probe. It includes more than 80,000 documents and 300,000 emails.
Diamondstein said his firm does not have the wherewithal to sift through that much material for free.
In addition, because Diamondstein has dozens of clients fighting charges filed by the district attorney’s office, representing the office’s top prosecutor could present a conflict of interest, he argued.
Rice dismissed this logic, saying “you made the decision to represent Mr. Williams with open eyes, and so did he.”
Williams told Rice that he has another private lawyer lined up who will represent him as the case moves toward trial, which could take more than a year. William said he has a payment arrangement worked out with that unnamed attorney.
That gave Rice pause. Does that mean Williams has the money to pay for private counsel after all?
“I guess I was mistaken,” Diamondstein told Rice.
Rice gave Williams until Friday, the next hearing date, to produce another lawyer to represent him.
And he added a stern warning.
The new defense attorney must be committed to representing Williams for the life of the case, Rice said. Otherwise, Williams could be accused of intentionally delaying his own trial.
That would have serious consequences, such as waiving his right to have a private lawyer at all or having his bail revoked, meaning he would be incarcerated as he awaits trial.
“That could be a big problem for you,” Rice cautioned Williams.
As Williams and Diamondstein waded through a gaggle of reporters outside the courtroom en route to a black car, an activist with Black Lives Matter shouted down Williams and another onlooker briefly sparred with Williams’ security detail.
Before the car took off down Market Street, BLM’s Asa Khalif recorded a Facebook Live video on his cell phone and repeated a single word while pointing forcefully at the tinted window shielding Williams: “Shame. Shame. Shame.”