|Tom Burke And His New Client|
Rufus Seth Williams has a new lawyer. He's Thomas F. Burke, who served alongside Williams in the D.A.'s office back in the 1990s, under Lynne Abraham, when both men were starting out their legal careers as young assistant district attorneys.
In a three-minute hearing today before U.S. Magistrate Timothy R. Rice, Burke announced he was taking over the case.
"I'm in for the long haul," Burke told Rice. He pledged to stay on the case unless he died or was abducted by aliens.
Are you aware, Rice said, that your client, the district attorney of Philadelphia, may not be able to pay for your services?
"I'm very aware of that, Your Honor," Burke said.
Diamondstein, the lawyer who had most recently represented Williams, told a judge that one of the reasons he wanted out was that the D.A. couldn't afford to pay him. Even though the D.A. makes an annual salary of $175,000.
Outside the courthouse, and undaunted by the prospect of having a deadbeat for a client, Burke said he was "honored" to represent Williams. It's Burke's job to defend against a 23-count federal indictment that charges the D.A. with extortion, bribery, honest services fraud and wire fraud.
In that indictment, the feds claim that at same time he was allegedly committing all those crimes, the D.A. was helping himself to more than $34,000 unreported gifts and cash from a couple of businessmen. In addition to allegedly stealing more than $20,000 from the D.A.'s own 84-year-old adopted mother.
With his head bowed and reading from a statement, Burke told reporters that he had reviewed all the charges in the case. And not once in the 50-page indictment, Burke said, did the government allege that the outcome of a single case had been altered by the alleged misconduct described in the indictment. And that's out of some 500,000 cases prosecuted by the D.A.'s office since Williams took office in 2010, Burke said.
Burke also said that the 50-page indictment was "devoid of a single allegation of a quid pro quo," meaning that Williams had accepted or extorted all those free gifts without promising to give back anything in return.
Burke also said that Williams had agreed to a temporary suspension of his law license while the case against him was being prosecuted. But Williams plans to stay on as D.A., even though he's under indictment. He won't be practicing law, Burke said, but Williams will continue to function in only an administrative capacity.
Burke took no questions from reporters. Before he read his statement, Burke hustled Williams through the rain and past a gaggle of reporters and photographers to a waiting car. Meanwhile, a single protester kept yelling, "Seth Williams, you betrayed the trust of the black community. Seth Williams, you need to resign."
The D.A.'s new lawyer has his work cut out for him. The government has already filed a motion to brand the trial as complex, so it won't be bound by the Speedy Trial Act.
"The case is sufficiently unusual and complex due to the nature of the prosecution and the number of witnesses and documents," the U.S. Attorney wrote in their motion. Already, the government has obtained some 80,000 pages of documents through subpoenas, and more than 300,000 emails.
So far, there are 200 witness statements in the case, and 17 grand jury transcripts, the U.S. Attorney's Office wrote.
And while the D.A. remains in office, expect the feds to make Burke's job even more difficult. By running down even more evidence against Rufus. And possibly even filing more charges in a superseding indictment.