Seth Williams' law license suspended by Pa. Supreme Court

Philadelphia Prosecutor Gifts
Philadelphia D.A. Seth Williams

Some wheels of justice turn slowly, even for a top prosecutor charged with 23 federal criminal counts.

Philadelphia District Attorney Seth Williams agreed April 4, in a joint filing with the Disciplinary Board of the Pennsylvania Supreme Court, to a temporary suspension of his law license.

That came two weeks after he was indicted for allegedly taking $34,145 in bribes from two businessmen and stealing $20,319 meant for the care of his elderly mother.

The Pennsylvania Supreme Court on Thursday approved that suspension, making it effective May 13.

Why the 53-day delay from indictment to suspension?

The state’s rules of professional conduct for lawyers require actions to take effect 30 days after the Supreme Court rules, according to Marcee Sloan, the prothonotary at the Disciplinary Board of the Supreme Court.

Williams has rebuffed calls for him to resign from office and is collecting his $175,572 annual salary. He dropped his bid for a third term before the indictment was released. His term ends in the first week of next January.

“During the suspension, the district attorney will not act as an attorney in any case involving the office, nor will he make any legal determinations,” First Assistant District Attorney Kathleen Martin said in an email Thursday. “He will participate only in administrative, policy and personnel matters in his capacity as a public official.”

Williams’ predecessor as district attorney, Lynne M. Abraham, filed suit April 3 with attorney Richard Sprague asking a Common Pleas Court judge to force Williams out of office.

While Williams was still a candidate for reelection, one of his Democratic opponents filed a complaint with the Disciplinary Board seeking to have his law license suspended or revoked. Joe Khan’s complaint noted that Williams, in an agreement with the Philadelphia Board of Ethics to pay a $62,000 fine, admitted that he had failed to list $175,716 in gifts in statements of financial interests he filed from 2010 to 2015.

Sloan said attorneys are required to respond to complaints filed against them. The process remains confidential until the Disciplinary Board files a petition for discipline. If the board finds no rules of professional conduct were violated, the record remains confidential forever, she said.

While the suspension will take weeks, Williams’ criminal case is moving swiftly in federal court.

U.S. District Judge Paul S. Diamond on Tuesday ruled that Williams will stand trial May 31, despite requests from federal prosecutors for more time to prepare.

“The largest prosecutor’s office in the commonwealth is being run by someone who is not licensed to practice law and is himself charged with 23 federal crimes,” Diamond wrote in an order, explaining why he thought Williams should come to trial quickly.

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