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Kelley Hodge, a former city prosecutor, is selected interim DA

A top deputy at the Philadelphia District Attorney's Office and two former city prosecutors were the front runners Thursday to take over the office.

Kelly Hodges.
Kelly Hodges.Read more

Former city prosecutor Kelley Hodge said in her job application that she was "ready to perform the duties" of Philadelphia district attorney "on Day One."

Day One could be Friday for Hodge, who was elected Thursday by the Philadelphia Common Pleas Court Board of Judges to serve as interim district attorney.

Hodge, 45, will complete the second term of  former District Attorney Seth Williams, who resigned last month and is awaiting sentencing in a federal corruption case.

Hodge learned of her election in a phone call she described as "incredible" from President Judge Sheila Woods-Skipper. She described her anticipated chances of victory before that as "remote."

"It's pretty remarkable and very humbling," Hodge said. "It's not lost on me how significant the job is. It's about moving the office forward, moving beyond what was a very tumultuous time when there were many distractions from what was going on day to day."

Hodge becomes the first African American woman to serve as district attorney. Williams was the city's first African American district attorney.

The election process was overseen by Woods-Skipper and Judge Frederica Massiah-Jackson, the longest currently serving judge on Common Pleas Court. Both are African American.

"I think we're proud of the process and the efficient way in which we handled it," Woods-Skipper said. "We had many fine candidates who elected to put their names in the hat. And I think she's an excellent choice."

By tradition, the judges place their ballots in a scuffed-up top hat that may have belonged to a long-ago jurist.

Massiah-Jackson said she was "absolutely" proud that an African American woman had been elected.

"This is a very positive result," she said. "The best candidate won."

Woods-Skipper said the work of city prosecutors hadn't changed much during the scandal that surrounded and consumed Wiliams' political career and personal life.

"But we wanted to ensure that the leadership at the top is sending a clear message that we are running an office that has integrity, that has a mission and goal to be fair and treat everyone decently moving forward," Woods-Skipper said.

Hodge, in her letter of interest sent to the board last week, said her "legal foundation is deeply rooted in my initial employment as an assistant public defender in Richmond, Va."  She also worked on Title IX issues at the University of Virginia.

Hodge returned home to Philadelphia in 2004, going to work as a prosecutor for then-District Attorney Lynne M. Abraham. She worked for Abraham, who was also a candidate Thursday, for six years and then two more for Williams, who took over the office in 2010.

Hodge wrote that she had "maintained relationships with many current and former members of the office and believe I can and would bring a level of familiarity" to the job.

Then-Gov. Tom Corbett appointed Hodge as the Safe Schools Advocate in Philadelphia in December 2011, a post she held until August 2015.  Hodge, in her application, said she reestablished an office that assured the accuracy of School District crime reporting.

She has been in private practice at the law firm Elliot Greenleaf, working on cases involving higher education, white collar crime and internal investigations. She serves on the board of the Pennsylvania Innocence Project and as a hearing committee member for the state Supreme Court Disciplinary Board.

Fourteen candidates applied for the position. One, acting District Attorney Kathleen Martin, used her interview with the judges Wednesday to withdraw her candidacy and ask them to support John Delaney, the deputy district attorney in charge of the trial division.

Eighty-three of the 88 eligible Common Pleas Court judges voted in the first round but no candidate won a majority. Hodge held 32 votes while Delaney took 16 and Joe Khan, a former city and federal prosecutor who ran unsuccessfully for district attorney in the May Democratic primary election, took nine.

The three went into a runoff, with Hodge winning 40 votes, Delaney 36, and Khan seven.

With Khan eliminated, Hodge won a second runoff with 43 votes while Delaney had 38. There was one abstention and one judge apparently left the proceedings before the third vote.

Hodge will be paid about $77,656 for 5½ months of work.

The other candidates were retired Judges Ben Lerner, Paul Panepinto and William Manfredi; Senior Judge D. Webster Keogh; former prosecutors Robert A. Rovner, Curtis Douglas, Arlene Fisk, and James Berardinelli; and longtime defense attorney Leon Aristotle Williams.

The Board of Judges voted in a courtroom on City Hall's sixth floor, a tight and spartan place compared with some of the nearby ceremonial courtrooms with gilded cornices and soaring ceilings.

The judges met under a drop-ceiling and fluorescent lights, the lone adornment being a state court seal and a portrait of the late Common Pleas Judge Curtis Carson Jr., who served 23 years on the bench and in 1952 was one of the first three African Americans appointed as assistant district attorneys in Philadelphia. Carson later served as a local NAACP official.

It has been 26 years since the last time the Board of Judges selected a district attorney. They chose one of their own, Abraham, in 1991. She stepped down as a judge to take the post, which she held for 18 years, leaving office in January 2010.

The local NAACP chapter and a group called Philadelphia Coalition for a Just DA had called on the Board of Judges to reject Abraham's application, based on her record in office. More than 1,400 people signed a petition supporting that.

Abraham won just four votes Thursday and was eliminated in the first round.

The Board of Judges is about evenly split in tenure — 45 of the judges have served 10 or more years on the bench while 43 of them have less than 10 years of service.  Women outnumber men, 47 to 41. Minorities make up 44 percent of the judges, with 32 African Americans, five Hispanics, and two Asians.