Monday’s profile of Kevin Harden Jr., a prosecutor for seven-month in the office of Philadelphia District Attorney Seth Williams, sparked a lot of reader comments.
Many praised the 25-year-old Harden for overcoming the poverty and chaos of his early life in West Philadelphia, going straight after several arrests for drug dealing as a teenager, getting through college and law school and his continuing care of two younger brothers after both parents died.
Others questioned whether Williams – or any district attorney -- should ever hire a prosecutor who has been arrested – even when, in Harden’s case, the charges were expunged after he successfully completed the Philadelphia judicial system’s Drug Court program.
Some readers questioned Harden’s Oct. 11, 2007 appearance on CNN’s “Anderson Cooper 360,” an episode dealing with the “don’t-snitch” culture among young people in urban neighborhoods, in which Harden supported the don’t-snitch viewpoint as a young African American man from a violent West Philadelphia neighborhood.
What the transcript of the appearance does not make clear, Harden said in a recent interview, is that he was then a college student, planning to attend law school, who was asked to argue the don’t-snitch point of view. Harden said he did not believe that point of view then and, as a prosecutor, does not now.
Finally, some questioned how many better-qualified candidates were passed over by Williams to hire Harden.
As Williams noted in the article, he first met Harden as a fellow panelist at a 2009 town hall meeting on youth violence sponsored by state Rep. Kenyatta Johnson, a Point Breeze Democrat.
Williams said he was impressed at Harden’s articulateness but, before that meeting at South Philadelphia High School, “I didn’t know him from a can of spray paint.”
As for qualifications, Williams noted that Harden was on the dean’s list during his last semester at Temple University’s law school, was recommended by JoAnne Epps, dean of Temple’s law school, and got a grade of 4.8 out of 5 after vetting by the hiring committee of veteran prosecutors in the District Attorney’s office.
Harden is unlikely to encounter any of his former neighbors and friends in his current job; Harden is assigned to handle cases from South Philadelphia, not West. Police, however, are another story. Harden says he’s already bumped into officers who once arrested him and who congratulate him for turning around his life.
Williams has said since he campaigned for election in 2009 that he believes in “second chances” and the need for employers to hire convicted felons who have served their time and are trying to reenter society. He’s also said he wants to hire prosecutors who know Philadelphia and its neighborhoods and problems.
“I think he’s turned his life around,” Williams said in an interview. “But there are going to be a lot of people watching him. I told him that if even needs subway fare to call me first. For better or worse, he and I are now joined at the hip. If he does something wrong, we’ll be the ones to notify the board of law examiners.”