God Bless the Child: Will Philly D.A. Seth Williams Find Another Pro Bono Attorney? Charged with Bribery

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DAVID MAIALETTI / STAFF PHOTOGRAPHER, The Philadelphia Inquirer

Despite being stripped of the cash cow that was once the selling of his public office, Philadelphia District Attorney Seth Williams passed up on securing court-appointed lawyers, in at the courthouse on Tuesday.

The prosecutor pleaded not guilty to 23 federal counts related to influence peddling.  Williams is alleged to have sold his influence by seeking thousands of dollars of bribes from rich donors in exchange for official favors.  Williams described himself as “merely a thankful beggar” while reaping more than $175,000 in gifts including a new roof, luxury vacations, Eagles sidelines passes, and use of a defense attorney’s home in Florida.

At least one local businessman spared no expense on Williams with cash payments and gifts totaling over $15,000, in exchange for Williams’ help with criminal charges that would shorten a man’s sentence and keep him out of state prison. To supplement, Williams also allegedly drained more than $20,000 of Social Security and pension income from his own mother—money that was reportedly intended to pay for her nursing home, as well as his mortgage and electric bills. An absolutely unthinkable and cruel act given that Williams is the only son; adopted after he was placed in foster care as an infant.

R. Seth Williams, District Attorney via City of Philadelphia, of District Attorney About Us Page

Since Williams’ declined to apply for court-appointed counsel, he’ll need to secure his own new lawyer by Friday.  For the past two years, during the FBI investigation, the taxpayers were footing the bill for his lawyer. The city stopped paying once Williams was indicted last week.  Lawyer Michael Diamondstein, a friend of Williams, represented him on Tuesday pro bono for his arraignment.   Diamonstein told U.S. Magistrate Judge Timothy Rice, however, that he couldn’t continue to represent Williams for free. Indeed, not many lawyers could, considering the manpower needed to review the 380,000 pages of documents and emails already produced in the case.

There’s no indication who Williams will find to represent him by Friday. Last year, the 11-term Philadelphia congressman found guilty of federal racketeering, Chaka Fattah, was represented by a Philadelphia lawyer, Mark Lee.  In defense of Fattah, Lee highlighted his clients’ long career of public service stating “[w]hile it is true that [he] now stands before this court convicted of serious crimes, he is also a man that has dedicated his entire life to the service of others.”  A U.S. District Judge in the same court in which Williams must appear was convinced enough to sentence Fattah to only 10 of the 22 years that prosecutors sought.  While there is no indication who Williams’ will seek out to represent him in the next 48 hours, there is no doubt that Williams will be calling on Philadelphia’s close-knit legal community for help.

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