Should Philadelphia District Attorney Seth Williams be suspended from practicing law or disbarred for accepting more than $175,000 in gifts, including some from lawyers with cases being handled by his office?
That's the question Joe Khan, one of Williams' Democratic primary election challengers, asked in a complaint filed Monday with the Disciplinary Board of the Pennsylvania Supreme Court.
Khan, a former federal prosecutor, cited in his complaint an agreement that Williams reached with the Philadelphia Board of Ethics last week to pay a $62,000 fine for failing to report the gifts in his annual statements of financial interests from 2010 to 2015.
"Most troubling in the administration of justice and his fitness to practice law [is that] Williams admitted that he failed to disclose in his past statements of financial interests 20 gifts from individuals who had a financial interest that he was substantially able to affect through official action as district attorney," Khan wrote in his complaint, adding that this included "defense attorneys who were handling cases prosecuted by" Williams.
Khan, in his complaint, accused Williams of violating the board's Rules of Professional Responsibility, "which state that it is professional misconduct for a lawyer to engage in conduct involving dishonesty, fraud, deceit or misrepresentation; or to engage in conduct that is prejudicial to the administration of justice."
Williams in August amended his statements of financial interests for 2010 to 2015 to list $160,050 in previously unreported gifts. His agreement last week with the Board of Ethics disclosed $15,666 more in gifts during that time.
The gifts included cash, gift cards, vacations, $45,000 in home repairs, and Eagles sideline passes.
Williams, who is paid $175,572 a year as district attorney, apologized in a statement last week, saying he accepted "full responsibility for my failure to do everything that was required of me as a public official."
On Monday, Williams declined to comment about Khan's complaint. Dan Fee, a spokesman for Williams' campaign, was dismissive of the action, accusing Khan of not addressing issues of "gun violence, hate crimes, or drug addiction" in the race.
"The district attorney doesn't need to beat Khan, he just has to let him keep talking as he defeats himself," Fee said in an email.
Khan noted that Williams accepted the gifts while prosecuting members of the General Assembly from Philadelphia and a former Traffic Court judge for illegally accepting gifts.
"Williams was well-aware of his obligations here, given that simultaneously with his own failure to disclose and receipt of illegal gifts he was prosecuting a number of state officials for their own failures in quite analogous circumstances," Khan wrote.
Marcee Sloan, prothonotary for the Disciplinary Board, said any attorney who is the subject of a complaint is contacted by letter and is required to file a response.
Khan, in a statement released with his complaint, said he was asking the board to work "as expeditiously as possible" so that voters know the status of Williams' law license before the May 16 primary election. Williams faces four challengers in that primary as he seeks a third term.
"Seth Williams has disqualified himself morally from serving as our city's chief law enforcement officer," Khan said. "The question now is whether he will have a valid law license in the coming months."
Also Monday, another Democratic candidate challenged the other candidates in the race to reject any campaign donations from lawyers whose "primary area of practice" is with clients prosecuted by the District Attorney's Office.
Rich Negrin, a former city managing director, also cited the Board of Ethics agreement while making his pledge to refuse such contributions, calling it "a plain and obvious line that shouldn't be crossed."