Judge sets Monday for Seth Williams trial jury selection

Philadelphia District Attorney
Philadelphia District Attorney Seth Williams speaks during a news conference in Philadelphia, Friday, Feb. 10, 2017. (AP Photo/Matt Rourke).

Philadelphia District Attorney Seth Williams was in federal court Wednesday for a final pretrial hearing, in which the judge outlined an ambitious schedule for Williams’ trial on bribery and campaign expense fraud charges.

“Usually, I pick a jury in one day,” said U.S. District Judge Paul S. Diamond, describing his plans for the beginning of jury selection Monday at the federal courthouse.

Diamond allowed that he wouldn’t require Assistant U.S. Attorney Robert A. Zauzmer to have his first witness on standby Monday. But Diamond made no such promises about proceeding with opening statements if he, Zauzmer, two fellow prosecutors, and defense lawyer Thomas Burke finish picking a jury of 12 jurors and four alternates.

Much of Wednesday’s 30-minute hearing involved the usual pretrial housekeeping issues: the number of prospective jurors each side will be allowed to strike without cause, the questions jurors will be asked to determine if they can fairly decide the case, and the trial schedule.

There were no courtroom fireworks, and Williams, 50, nearing the end of his second term as the city’s top prosecutor, seemed relaxed and confident as he chatted with his lawyer.

Williams and Burke declined to comment after the hearing, as did Zauzmer and fellow prosecutors Vineet Gauri and Eric Moran.

Diamond said a panel of 140 prospective jurors from the nine counties comprising the Eastern District of Pennsylvania will be questioned in the large ceremonial courtroom that links the courthouse and the adjacent federal office building.

In court, Zauzmer estimated it would take two to three weeks to present the government’s case; Burke said the defense would take less than a week.

Prosecutors allege that the financially pressed Williams accepted bribes from two businessmen who wanted his help for associates facing criminal charges.

Williams also is charged with stealing $20,000 intended for his mother’s nursing home care and using it to pay his mortgage and electricity bills.

Prosecutors allege that Williams defrauded his own political action committee by using its funds for his personal expenses, and that he cheated the city and federal governments by using vehicles meant for official or law enforcement use for his personal needs.

Earlier this year, Williams dropped out of his campaign for a third term. By agreement with the state Supreme Court, he has suspended his law license and has turned over the daily operation of the District Attorney’s Office to First Assistant District Attorney Kathleen Martin.