Clout: Well, look who's the judge in Abraham's Williams lawsuit

20100105_dn_0kvqj4fn
Seth Williams is sworn in yesterday as district attorney (top), with wife, Sonita, holding the Bible. As Mayor Nutter applauds, Williams kisses his predecessor, Lynne Abraham, who had the job for 19 years.

Seth Williams can’t buy a break.

Oh, God, you’re thinking, more financial drama for our embattled district attorney?

Bear with us, dear reader. During the 2009 Democratic primary race, one of Williams’ rivals, Dan McCaffery, tried to get Williams tossed off the ballot for not fully disclosing his income on campaign-finance forms, an early glimpse of the kind of financial sloppiness that would prove to be his undoing.

Williams hired an attorney named Abbe Fletman from the law firm Flaster Greenberg to represent him. His political action committees – the Committee to Elect Seth Williams and the Friends of Seth Williams (which sounds like a good name for a Saturday morning cartoon) – shelled out more than $65,900 in 2009 and 2010 on legal fees, according to campaign-finance records.

An Election Court judge kicked Williams off the ballot, but he was reinstated on appeal -- which was handled by attorney Sam Stretton -- and went on to win the primary and general elections.

Now Williams finds himself facing federal corruption charges. If that wasn’t bad enough, former District Attorney Lynne Abraham and defense attorney Richard Sprague filed a lawsuit this month to boot Williams out of office. And because the universe has a wicked sense of humor, Fletman – now a Common Pleas Court judge – has been assigned to handle preliminary objections in the case. 

So what happens next?

Clout wanted some guidance, so we called a distinguished former judge, who let out a healthy chuckle when we explained the situation.

The judge said attorney Peter Greiner, who filed the lawsuit on behalf of Abraham and Sprague, could ask Fletman to step aside. Or Fletman could voluntarily do so.

Neither Greiner nor Fletman could be reached for comment.

“In Pennsylvania, it’s up to the judge’s conscience if they feel they can be fair and impartial,” Clout’s expert said. “But the appearance would be important. That’s one of the things you look at when you’re a judge.”

About that award ... 

Fact-check time. Yes, we do that here.

Rich Negrin, the former Philadelphia managing director now running for district attorney, has been telling folks that he won a 2012 White House award for open and innovative government.

President Obama named me a White House Champion of Change,” Negrin said at a recent forum.

But the recipient was actually Adel Ebeid, then the city’s chief innovation officer. Sure, Negrin attended the event with Ebeid. But an archived White House photo shows Ebeid, not Negrin, among the winners. And the Champions of Change website includes a bio of Ebeid, not Negrin.

“Attending an award ceremony is not the same as winning the award,” said Brandon Cox, campaign manager for Joe Khan, one of the six other Democrats running for DA. “If it was, then La La Land could actually claim to have won the Oscar for best picture.”

Nice burn, Brandon.

Negrin spokesman Mark Nevins (solid softball player, we hear) immediately fired back, saying Negrin “developed a vision for Philadelphia” as managing director, and “that vision was recognized by the White House for the positive change it delivered for the city.”

“No political attack changes that,” Nevins said. “If Joe Khan ever figures out how to articulate an innovative, original vision for the city, maybe someday he’ll understand."

The truth, however, is somewhere in the middle.

Ebeid said he accepted the award “on behalf of the city and on behalf of all the programs that were going on under Rich,” referring to Philly 311, PhillyStat, and other programs. Ebeid, now president of a performance management company called Green Diamond, said Negrin was “really spearheading and leading these initiatives” that were executed by Ebeid and others.

Still, Clout can’t help but wonder: If the award was intended for Negrin and Negrin was actually there that day, why didn’t the White House staff just give the award to Negrin?

And then there’s this: Negrin’s description of the award has evolved. The 2015 announcement of his resignation said, “Under his direction, the Managing Director’s Office cluster has earned numerous awards for its work, including the 2012 White House Champions of Change Award for Local Innovation. …” And the bio at his law firm, Obermayer, says: “His efforts have been recognized by the White House as a Champion of Change in Innovation and Citizen Engagement.”

We’re not going to call Negrin’s claim an outright falsehood and give him the equivalent of the Washington Post’s Four Pinocchios. But his earlier descriptions are more accurate than what he’s been saying lately.

Clout’s ruling: Half true.

As for whom Ebeid is backing in the DA’s race, he deftly declined to take the bait. “I’m not political or anything,” he said. Smart. Stay that way, Adel.

Did you hear?

State Rep. Brian Sims is all over the interwebs after he destroyed an amateur Facebook troll by calling the guy’s grandmother. The bush-league troll, David something-or-other, had called Sims, who is openly gay, the F-word and the N-word (which doesn’t even make sense).

But apparently David also had posted his own grandmother’s phone number all over his page. So Sims called.

“She and I just had a very disappointing chat about you,” Sims wrote back to David.

Strong move. Maybe Clout will try this approach with Philly.com commenters.

“I’ll never know why he posted her number, or why she answered when I called at 6:15 a.m.,” Sims told us Wednesday. “But I’m pretty sure he won’t be posting on anyone’s page any time soon.”

2 + 2 = ???

In last week’s columnFrank Olivieri, owner of Pat’s King of Steaks, challenged Mayor Kenney to sit in a dunk tank filled with soda to raise money for charity.

In describing the terms of that challenge – which Kenney declined – Clout grossly miscalculated how many two-liter bottles it would take to fill a 500-gallon dunk tank. Multiple calculators confirm it would take about 946 bottles.

Thanks to the readers who alerted us to our failed math skills – “You are wrong, wrong, wrong,” one West Chester-based reader wrote – and apologies to the math teachers at Lower Merion High School, circa 2003-07.

Staff writers David Gambacorta, William Bender, and Julia Terruso contributed to this report. Tips: clout@philly.com 

We encourage respectful comments but reserve the right to delete anything that doesn't contribute to an engaging dialogue
Help us moderate this thread by flagging comments that violate our guidelines

Comment policy:

Philly.com comments are intended to be civil, friendly conversations. Please treat other participants with respect and in a way that you would want to be treated. You are responsible for what you say. And please, stay on topic. If you see an objectionable post, please report it to us using the "Report Abuse" option.

Please note that comments are monitored by Philly.com staff. We reserve the right at all times to remove any information or materials that are unlawful, threatening, abusive, libelous, defamatory, obscene, vulgar, pornographic, profane, indecent or otherwise objectionable. Personal attacks, especially on other participants, are not permitted. We reserve the right to permanently block any user who violates these terms and conditions.

Additionally comments that are long, have multiple paragraph breaks, include code, or include hyperlinks may not be posted.

Load comments
Continue Reading