DN Editorial: Seth Williams should resign as DA after ethics scandal

The city Board of Ethics fined District Attorney Seth Williams $62,000 — the largest penalty in the board's history — for failure to report five sources of income and 89 gifts.

IT IS TIME for Seth Williams to resign as district attorney of Philadelphia.

We believe he should resign because his ability to pursue cases involving political corruption has been fatally undermined, especially after Tuesday's ruling from the city's Board of Ethics.

We also believe he should resign because he has violated the public trust and his oath of office by accepting gifts and payments from people who are employed by or who do business with the District Attorney's Office.

To put it more bluntly, we can't have the person we elected to uphold the law be a violator of the law.

The Ethics Board fined Williams $62,000 for failing to list $175,000 in gifts and income from outside sources in his annual financial disclosure forms, as required by city law.

The gifts include home repairs, cash, gift cards, airfare and lodging for vacations, plus Eagles sideline passes. The board said the list included five sources of income and 89 gifts - none of which was reported on Williams' disclosure statements over a six-year period. The givers included defense attorneys, employees and contractors who had dealings with the District Attorney's Office.

Last August, Williams filed amended disclosure statements that did record about $160,000 in gifts and income. The board found additional cash gifts totaling $15,666 that were never reported.

Under the law, public officials may accept cash gifts as long as they report any gift in excess of $200. We consider that an unwise, even foolish loophole, but Williams failed to meet even that requirement.

In a statement made after the Ethics Board ruling, Williams apologized, focusing on his failure to report the money.

We'd prefer to take a step back and ask some other questions: Why did he take the money to begin with? Why did he let people shower him with gift cards and resort stays, Eagles passes and a $2,700 couch? Why did he fail to report income from local lawyers and law firms who come into regular contact with the DA's office?

It reveals a flawed - we believe fatal - lack of judgment by the man we entrusted with being the people's lawyer in the courts. Williams is supposed to prosecute the bad guys, not act like one.

In fact, his rigorous (and successful) pursuit of the corruption cases of six officials after those cases were dropped by state Attorney General Kathleen Kane makes his own gift list the height of hypocrisy. Those officials accepted gifts totaling $19,200, only slightly more than the unreported cash Williams himself received. When pursuing those cases, Williams said, "There are no free passes when it comes to corruption."

According to published reports, the IRS and the FBI are also investigating Williams' personal finances and his political action committees. Like the people he prosecutes, he deserves the presumption of innocence if those other investigations result in charges.

But, we would encourage the district attorney to take stock of his situation. Can he be an effective leader while, at the same time, paying fines for his misdeeds? (The fine is the largest in Ethics Board history.)

In a statement made after the Ethics Board ruling, Williams said: "These mistakes were my own, and I accept full responsibility for my failure to do everything required of me to be a public official."

We agree on all counts. The mistakes were his alone. He did fail to do everything required of him. He should accept full responsibility and resign.