[OP-ED]: Will Justice Dawn In DA’s Office Following Conviction of DA Williams?
The pompous, pilfering prosecutor pleads guilty to corruption charges on the eighth day of his unprecedented federal criminal trial. Authorities haul this prosecutor off to prison in handcuffs…another segment in the sordid saga of Seth Williams – Philadelphia’s now former District Attorney.
Many rightly cast the stunning fall of once rising political star Seth Williams as a quintessential individual failing.
Yes, Seth Williams took the term low-life to new depths.
Williams stole money meant for the care of his infirmed mother to fund an inflated lifestyle that exceeded his income. Among other misconduct, Williams cobbled from campaign contributions to fund memberships at elite establishments and personal massages.
Williams once convicted five Philadelphia State Representatives for failing to report gifts on financial disclosure forms yet Williams also failed to report receipt of gifts leading to Williams receiving a record-setting fine from the Philadelphia Ethics Board.
The total value of all ‘gifts’ received by those legislators Williams convicted was less than half of just one of those [initially unreported] gifts that Williams received: $45,000 in roof repairs on his house.
However, despite Williams’ embarrassing individual failings, a myopic focus on Seth’s shortcomings obscures an institutional component contributing to the documented misconduct in Williams’ case: the self-righteous stances of too many prosecutors and the deference bestowed upon prosecutors even in instances where prosecutors perpetrate clear injustice.
Reforms Williams implemented, as District Attorney, didn’t stop his administration from pursuing the same persecution policies that Williams condemned when he campaigned for DA.
Williams’s prosecutors, for example, sought to send a teen to prison for decades on an implausible claim from that teen’s next-door neighbor – a woman with a documented history of making false accusations. That neighbor, a blind woman, claimed the teen tried to blowup her house but was thwarted by her seeing-eye dog that chased the teen away with barks before that dog dialed 911 for assistance.
The prosecutors who persecuted that teen based on that twisted tale about a 911 dialing dog should have at least faced serious disciplinary spanking for incompetence – but didn’t.
Did DA Williams offer aid to that teen’s mother for her bankruptcy from legal fees spent fighting her son’s false prosecution? No! A low-life couldn’t see the high road in righting wrongs evident in that teen’s ordeal.
Courts are supposed to police the errant/unjust acts of prosecutors but do so rarely.
In 1978 the Pennsylvania Supreme Court assailed Philadelphia’s then District Attorney – Ed Rendell – for providing “misleading” testimony to help prosecutors win a murder conviction. Rendell’s act, the Court stated, constituted a “fraud.” But nothing happened to Rendell beyond that rhetorical rebuke.
Philadelphia’s current Acting DA pledges justice in DA operations yet her office continues road-blocking a Philadelphia judge’s order that the DA’s office produce all documents related to the involvement of former DA Ronald Castille in blocking appeals by jailed journalist Mumia Abu-Jamal.
Prosecutors must heed the justice directive issued by the Pa Supreme Court in 1889: no “unfair perversion of facts in order to convict…”