Philadelphia District Attorney Seth Williams is credited with progressive reforms in the criminal justice system.
As part of his “smart on crime” plan, Williams has created a wide range of alternative sentencing options for non-violent offenders. One example is the Small Amounts of Marijuana program that he established in June 2010. The program provides offenders with an opportunity to enroll in an educational class rather than face prosecution.
According to published reports, Williams is amending his disclosure filings to reflect the gifts that include home repairs, travel, lodging and cash. Federal investigators have interviewed some of his staff regarding the D.A.’s finances, said another published report.
So far there has been no evidence that Williams has broken any laws. However, published reports said a federal probe into his political and personal finances has expanded to include The Second Chance Foundation, a nonprofit Williams set up in 2011.
Williams charged five state representatives and a traffic court judge in a bribery case that led to guilty pleas from four of the local state legislators and a former parking court judge in the corruption scandal.
The prosecution of the legislators was part of a feud between Williams and former state Attorney General Kathleen Kane, who recently resigned after being found guilty of leaking grand jury information to a reporter.
Kane had dropped the prosecution of the local legislators and judge, who are all Black, after stating she thought the investigation racially targeted them.
Williams, who is also Black, picked up the cases, which had begun under Republican Attorney General Tom Corbett, before Kane became attorney general in 2013. Williams and Kane are both Democrats.
His failure to disclose the gifts increases public distrust of the political and criminal justice systems. His conduct leads to questions on whether donors are seeking favorable treatment from the District Attorney’s office.
Williams has not been accused of criminal wrongdoing but he should lead by a better example. As the top prosecutor of Pennsylvania’s most populous city and one of the largest prosecutors’’ offices in the nation, Williams should conduct himself in a manner that makes it clear to the public that his office is above suspicion.