When Philadelphia District Attorney Seth Williams announced in February that he would not seek reelection, he apologized for a flap over gifts he received, and he admitted it cast an “unnecessary shadow” on the District Attorney’s office. As seven Democrats are gearing up for a primary race in mid May this week’s federal indictment of Williams on charges of bribery, extortion, and wire fraud have only made that shadow bigger and has led to calls for him to resign. The lone Republican, former assistant district attorney Beth Grossman, is on the ballot unopposed.
“He will face enormous pressure to resign from lawyers and all kinds of people, but he doesn’t have to,” WHYY senior reporter Dave Davies said. “He can remain in office as he fights these charges. Even if he were convicted, he could keep the office.
“Only upon sentencing would he forfeit it,” he added. A similar scenario played out recently played out when former Pennsylvania Attorney General Kathleen Kane was charged. She ended up stepping down from the post only after she was convicted.
The candidates, who have distanced themselves from Williams, are set to debate this evening from 7 to 9 p.m. in the main auditorium of Springside Chestnut Hill Academy, 8000 Cherokee Street. Davies will be the moderator. WHYY and the Chestnut Hill Local are co-sponsoring the debate.
If Williams were to step down, it could trigger a scenario where potentially one of the candidates could become district attorney in his stead.
“The Board of Common Pleas judges in Philadelphia meet to pick a replacement,” Davies said. “If they pick someone who is not from the current field of candidates, that person will be D.A. until January.
“They could choose one of the current candidates and that candidate would then run this year as an incumbent,” he added. “It obviously brings advantages and name recognition, but also pressures.”
To hear Jennifer Lynn’s interview with Dave Davies on the district attorney’s race, press play at the top of the page.
This is a corrected story. An earlier version misidentified a sponsor of the debate.