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Lawyer: Seth Williams plans to stay in office, despite law license suspension

Embattled Philadelphia District Attorney Seth Williams intends to remain in office but agreed Friday to a temporary suspension of his law license while he fights federal bribery and corruption charges, his new lawyer said.

Defense attorney Thomas F. Burke, in his first public statements since taking Williams' case, said the city's top prosecutor plans to limit himself to an administrative role and leave decisions on legal matters, including the hundreds of criminal cases under his office's purview, to others. He will continue to collect his $175,572 annual salary.

"Since District Attorney Williams assumed office in January 2010, his office has prosecuted more than 500,000 cases," Burke said. "The indictment does not contain a single allegation that the outcome of a single case was affected."

The decision to not step down put Williams on a path first blazed two years ago by one of his most bitter political enemies: former Pennsylvania Attorney General Kathleen G. Kane, who also refused to leave office while under indictment.

Since federal prosecutors unveiled their 23-count case against Williams last week, he has been an infrequent presence in his office, leaving day-to-day operations to his top deputy, Kathleen Martin.

Burke declined to answer questions Friday about Williams' decision to hold onto his post.

Instead, the defense lawyer stood in the rain outside the courthouse and read a short statement from his cellphone after a brief appearance in federal court. Nearby, a protester repeatedly accused Williams of "betray[ing] the trust of the black community."

"I have carefully reviewed the indictment and note that it is devoid of any allegation that a quid pro quo took place," Burke said.

The announcement offered Burke a high-profile debut only hours after he had signed on to Williams' case.

Williams' previous lawyer, Michael Diamondstein, had sought to step aside, citing concerns over the district attorney's ability to pay his legal bills. Another attorney who had represented Williams during the last year – former federal prosecutor John J. Pease III – bowed out when the city cut off funding for his legal defense.

The 50-year-old Williams has long blamed his financial woes on alimony payments stemming from a 2011 divorce and the cost of sending his daughters to private school.

But in a hearing before U.S. Magistrate Judge Timothy Rice, Burke insisted he was committed to the case for the "long haul" regardless of Williams' ability to pay.

"Short of my death and getting beamed up by the aliens, I'm in it until the end," Burke said. He declined afterward to discuss what financial agreement he had reached with the district attorney.

Burke first met Williams while both worked as young prosecutors under former District Attorney Lynne M. Abraham in the '90s. But their paths diverged as Williams entered politics to run for district attorney and Burke struck out to work as a defense attorney primarily handling state-level criminal cases.

Williams is accused of selling his influence to two wealthy benefactors who plied him with luxury gifts including Caribbean vacations, a used Jaguar convertible, and designer clothing. In a separate allegation, prosecutors say Williams misspent thousands of dollars intended to finance his mother's nursing-home care.

He has denied any wrongdoing – a point Burke reiterated Friday.

"We look forward to refuting the allegations and the day Mr. Williams is cleared of this behavior," he said.