It may only be a five-month term, but the upcoming vote to appoint an interim successor to disgraced Philadelphia DA Seth Williams has drawn more than its fair share of politicking.
In total, 14 individuals have put in their names for the interim position. An 88-member board of judges will vote to select a candidate tomorrow.
The vote is, hypothetically, impartial. But former DA and current interim candidate Lynne Abraham has already become embroiled in a war of words with the local chapter of the NAACP. And others seem to be seeking to influence the vote.
Ken Snyder joined the fray this week, taking aim at Kathleen Martin, a top deputy to Williams who was named acting DA in the wake of his federal bribery conviction. Snyder worked as a political consultant for former Democratic DA candidate Joe Khan, who is also seeking the interim position. (UPDATE: Martin abruptly dropped out of the running for DA several hours after the publication of this article)
Many say Martin has acted as de facto DA since being brought in by Williams last year. Snyder tried to paint her as nothing more than an extension of the troubled former DA and his policies.
“A judge said Williams has no credibility, and I believe it’s time to move on from the stench of the Williams era,” he wrote. “Martin had never worked as a Philly prosecutor before, so for Williams to groove her into being his top aide raises questions about why taxpayers needed her.”
Martin shot back that she had worked for decades as a defense attorney in Philadelphia before taking a job as an ADA in Pike County. She said she was brought in to “right the ship” and that she fully cooperated with federal prosecutors investigating Williams.
“I’ve helped ensure the stability of the office. I’ve cooperated and shielded the office from as much outward press and disruption as I could. The office is now running smoothly,” Martin said. “Everyone in the office just wants some continuity until the next DA is elected and sworn in…We’re trying to do that seamlessly. It was just the next logical step to submit my application.”
Although Snyder said he was acting independently, others said that Khan was lobbying hard for the position.
Snyder also alleged that Martin’s husband, consultant Robert Levant, had “played some unspecified role in Williams’ pre-trial defense.” Martin categorically denied that charge.
Internally, several DA employees praised Martin as an effective administrator and credited her with implementing progressive criminal reforms as Williams became increasingly consumed by scandal. Martin noted her work with a MacArthur Foundation-backed effort to reduce the local prison population and with introducing anti-fraternization policies.
“I’m not a political person. I don’t think of this as a campaign,” she said, of the appointment process.
Separately, former ADA AJ Thomson blasted Trial Division chief John Delaney – who has also applied for the interim slot – for using Philadelphia Police Officer Christopher Hulmes as a witness in criminal cases even after it emerged that Hulmes had repeatedly perjured himself.
"Mr Delaney has neither the prosecutorial judgment, nor the real trial experience to be the DA even for five months," Thomson said.
Delaney and Thomson have a long history, with the latter accusing the former of conspiring to have him fired after Thomson loudly complained to his supervisors about the use of Hulmes' testimony.
“Yes, I did know about those reports,” Delaney said, in a phone interview today, referencing Hulmes. “We continued to use that officer until the investigation concluded. It’s a serious allegation, but you have to strike a balance. If a police officer is accused of serious misconduct and you don't put him on the stand, you risk revealing that he is under investigation.”
As to his credentials, the deputy said he was running on “36 years of experience” at the office, where he said he had tried more cases than he could count.
Behind the scenes, several sources also said that African-American female judges, who represent a formidable number of votes, had united behind Elliott Greenleaf lawyer Kelley Hodge. Still others said Mayor Jim Kenney was quietly promoting former judge and Deputy Managing Director Ben Lerner, although spokesperson Marty O’Rourke denied that the mayor was supporting any particular candidate. Gov. Ed Rendell has notably backed Khan's bid.