What comes next for Philly DA Seth Williams and his office?
What happens next for Philadelphia District Attorney Seth Williams and his office?
If Williams had been charged Tuesday in an "information," meaning he had struck a deal with federal prosecutors, he would likely have resigned from office as part of the agreement.
But Williams now faces a 23-count bribery and corruption indictment, which suggests he intends to fight the charges in court.
That means the city's top prosecutor can hang on to his job, for now.
And Williams, who has repeatedly cited his troubled personal finances as the source of his problems while denying that he broke any laws, likely cannot afford to give up his $175,572-per-year salary.
Williams, through an office spokesman, declined to comment Tuesday when asked if he would remain in his post.
There is precedent for a prosecutor charged with a crime staying on the job. Not that Williams would enjoy the comparison.
Former state Attorney General Kathleen G. Kane remained in office after she was charged in a Montgomery County presentment in 2015.
Williams and Kane had long clashed publicly, in part over her decision to drop corruption cases against elected officials from Philadelphia and Williams' decision to revive the cases and bring charges.
Kane refused to resign while facing trial, even though the state Supreme Court had suspended her law license. Kane contended -- and the high court agreed -- that she did not need an active law license to run the office, arguing that her role was largely administrative.
She was convicted of perjury, obstruction, and other crimes in August 2016 and then resigned.
The state constitution requires elected officials to resign upon sentencing if convicted of a felony.
In an interview Tuesday, law professor Bruce Ledewitz, of Duquesne University, predicted that the state disciplinary board for lawyers would recommend to the Pennsylvania Supreme Court that it suspend Williams' law license, as it did Kane's, and that the high court would agree.
Still, like Kane, Williams could keep serving even with a suspended license, according to Ledewitz, as well as election-law experts and lawyers Adam Bonin and Gregory M. Harvey. State law merely requires that district attorneys be admitted to practice law for one year before taking office.
Acting U.S. Attorney William Fitzpatrick, who oversaw the Williams case from his New Jersey office, declined to comment on the district attorney's future during a Tuesday afternoon news conference, where the charges were detailed.
"That's not for me to say," Fitzpatrick said.
If Williams resigns, his first assistant would become acting district attorney until Philadelphia's 80 or so Common Pleas Court judges select a replacement.
State law requires the judges to make a pick "if any vacancy shall occur, either by death, resignation, or removal from office" until the next general election, which is set for Nov. 7
Williams' first deputy, Tariq El-Shabazz, resigned last month after his boss announced that he was dropping his bid for a third term in office. El-Shabazz is now one of seven candidates in the May 16 Democratic primary election for district attorney.
Williams on Thursday named Kathleen Martin, his chief of staff, as his new acting first assistant.
The judges are due to meet next on May 18, two days after the primary, but could be called to a special meeting before that.
The last time the judges had to select a new district attorney was 1991, when they selected one of their own, Lynne M. Abraham, to fill a vacancy created when Ronald D. Castille stepped down to run for mayor.
Abraham was a mentor to Williams early in his career as an assistant district attorney. That relationship soured when he resigned to challenge her in the 2005 Democratic primary. He lost that race but won in 2009, when Abraham did to not seek reelection.
Staff writer Craig R. McCoy contributed to this article.