By George Parry

They're cleaning out their desks at the District Attorney's Office. Seth Williams, the recently elected DA, will be taking over in January, and, as is customary, he will be bringing in his own team to take charge of the office. And so the incumbent old hands in leadership positions will be replaced.

The departing senior prosecutors are stalwarts who have navigated three changes of administration over the last 30 years and, in the process, professionalized the District Attorney's Office. Having started as fresh-faced, newly minted lawyers, they served year after year in the trenches, rising from the ranks of the lowliest trial assistants to become the office's top administrators, as well as living institutional repositories of prosecutorial expertise.

In every capacity over the years, they have fought to uphold the interests of the least powerful constituency in Philadelphia's criminal-justice system: its suffering legion of crime victims. For, in our system, criminals have rights, and victims have virtually none.

Seeking justice for powerless victims is the constant burden of the prosecutor. Most lawyers can't confront that daunting prospect for long without becoming discouraged and moving on to the rewards of private practice. Only a relative few have the vision and grit to devote their professional lives to this public service.

And now, no longer young and eager, these battle-scarred veterans are leaving. Most likely you've never heard their names or even known they were there. But it has been their drive and resourcefulness that made a dilapidated system of justice work - albeit imperfectly. With their skill and courage, they have helped hold the line against Philadelphia's only remaining growth industry: crime.

It is no small wonder that, in an ethically challenged city government, the District Attorney's Office has for three decades remained untainted by scandal and singularly focused on achieving justice for the citizens of Philadelphia. A large share of the credit for that accomplishment goes, of course, to outgoing District Attorney Lynne Abraham and her predecessors, Ron Castille and Ed Rendell. But they couldn't have done it without the professionals who served on the front lines and are now calling it a career.

They haven't done their difficult jobs for the glory, and certainly not for the money. Now they're going - Hilary Connor, Charlie Gallagher, Arnie Gordon, and a host of others too numerous to name - and leaving behind examples of excellence and integrity that will be a challenge to their successors.

Even in their retirement, we will owe them a debt. They have set high standards for ethics and professionalism, and it will be up to Seth Williams to prove himself worthy of their legacy.