Retired Philly judges seeks interim DA job

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Former Common Pleas Judge Paul Panepinto is seeking the post of interim district attorney.

At least five people are expected to compete for the position of interim district attorney in Philadelphia, serving out the last 5½ months of Seth Williams’ second term while Williams awaits sentencing in a federal corruption case.

Former Common Pleas Court Judge Paul Panepinto, 68, who retired from the bench March 3 after 26 years, said he has applied for the position.

Applicants have until 2 p.m. Friday to submit a letter of interest, resumé, and certificate of good standing issued by the prothonotary of the Pennsylvania Supreme Court.

The Board of Judges, made up of the city’s 88 Common Pleas Court jurists, will hear presentations from the applicants Wednesday and vote next Thursday.

Panepinto noted that many of his fellow judges already know him. The Board of Judges in February appointed him to the Board of Directors of City Trusts, which oversees Girard College, Wills Eye Health System, and other city assets.

“It has to be someone above reproach,” Panepinto said of the interim district attorney. “And it has to be someone who can restore integrity to the office.”

Williams, a Democrat, is being held in the Federal Detention Center. He resigned June 29, just before pleading guilty to a federal bribery charge. He will be sentenced in October.

Panepinto started his career as a staffer in Family Court. The longtime Republican was first elected as a judge in 1991 and ran unsuccessfully for the state Supreme Court in 2007 and 2009 and for Commonwealth Court in 2011.

He registered as an independent in 2015 and ran unsuccessfully again for the Supreme Court.

Panepinto registered again as a Republican in March, making him ineligible to run as an independent in the Nov. 7 general election. The state Election Code requires independent candidates to disaffiliate from any political party at least 30 days before the primary election to be eligible for the general election.

Also, former Common Pleas Court Judge Ben Lerner, 76, said he would file an application for interim district attorney on Thursday morning. Lerner ran the Public Defenders Office for 15 years before spending nearly 20 years in Common Pleas Court.

He left the bench in March 2016 to join the Kenney administration as deputy managing director for criminal justice. Lerner said he decided to apply after speaking to some judges and prosecutors.

“I think they’re really getting a bad rap,” Lerner said. “I hope in a short period of time I can help to restore morale.”

An assistant to Senior Judge D. Webster Keogh said he too will be applying for the position. Keogh, who was out of town this week, served in the District Attorney’s Office for seven years and was first appointed to the bench in 1991.

Kathleen Martin, who was chief of staff and then first assistant district attorney under Williams, has been running the office since his resignation. Martin said she would file her application to be interim district attorney Thursday.

“The DA’s Office wishes to continue to do our job seamlessly with consistency and continuity,” she said Wednesday.

Joe Khan, a former city and federal prosecutor who finished second in the May 17 Democratic primary for district attorney, said he, too, will apply for the post.

Democratic nominee Larry Krasner, a defense attorney known for civil rights cases, faces in the general election Republican Beth Grossman, who served 21 years as an assistant district attorney.

The winner of that race becomes district attorney in the first week of 2018.