At a stunning press conference last week, Philadelphia District Attorney Seth Williams announced he would not seek a third term in this year’s election, in part because he felt public scrutiny of his various ethical entanglements were becoming “a distraction.”
But if the presser was meant to put to rest the rampant speculation about his future, his plan seems to have backfired. Just this week, the DA was the target of apparently false rumors purporting that he had been taken into custody by federal agents.
Meanwhile, Congressman and Democratic City Committee chair Bob Brady said some city judges have already inquired about filling in as interim DA should Williams abruptly resign.
“If [Williams] would resign, like what happened back with Lynne Abraham” – Williams’ predecessor – “the Board of Judges would pick the successor to fill out the end of the term,” he said, referring to Abraham’s appointment following ex-DA Ron Castille’s 1991 resignation to run for mayor. “There are judges who are interested in that – Leon Tucker being one, Rayford Means being another one and Danny McCaffrey being another.”
All three are Common Pleas judges and Tucker and McCaffery had also previously been talked up as possible DA candidates. Brady said he’d been in contact with each of them in the past.
Williams has publicly stated that he intends to finish out his current term. Brady added that he believes the resignation scenario is highly unlikely, not least because the judges would also have to resign their own seats on the bench – not to mention Williams’ own high-profile financial issues give him plenty of incentive to continue in his position.
“I can’t imagine that happening,” the congressman explained, because Williams “is always complaining about how he needs money, how much he’s hurting. Unless he’s getting in at some major law firm somewhere, which I can’t imagine happening, he’s going to stay on like Kathleen Kane did to get a paycheck.”
In an interview with the Inquirer published today, Abraham mused on the unlikely event of an interim appointment process. She expressed doubts similar to Brady’s, but noted that the Board of Judges would be unlikely to select a DA candidate from the current field of contenders if Williams did resign.
Part of the speculation and interest from the judges in taking over for Williams stems from explosive – but seemingly unfounded – rumors that emerged this week.
Several sources notified City&State and other news outlets that Williams had been absent from his office Tuesday morning. By noon, a blog post surfaced claiming that a source had spotted the DA at the federal courthouse, while others speculated that Williams may have turned himself in to federal authorities.
“I’ve gotten 15 calls from reporters today,” lamented DA spokesperson Cameron Kline on Tuesday. “But the DA was not at the Federal Courthouse today...He had meetings outside the office today and he is here at the office now.”
The welter of rumoring even led to a Twitter selfie featuring Williams and Inquirer political columnist Chris Brennan – visual proof the DA was not, as some had claimed, being held by federal authorities.
Williams may simply have been out at routine meetings, contrary to these claims. None of the sources that contacted City&State had direct ties to federal prosecutors. Others close to the DA noted that Williams’ lawyer, who would presumably attend any such encounters with federal prosecutors, was out of the country on vacation this week.
Tucker, Means and McCaffery did not return calls for comment by press time.