Wednesday, April 26, 2017

Judge In Seth Williams Case Has Conflict Of Interest

By Ralph Cipriano

Richard A. Sprague and Lynne Abraham have gone to court seeking to have District Attorney Rufus Seth Williams removed from office.

The judge in the case is Abbe F. Fletman, but she has a conflict of interest.

In 2009, Fletman was a defense lawyer who represented Seth Williams in Philadelphia County Election Court. Eight years ago, Dan McCaffery, a candidate in the Democratic primary for D.A., went to Election Court seeking to get Seth Williams thrown off the ballot because he had not made a full disclosure of income in his financial disclosure forms.

Now, eight years later, Fletman's unsuccessful defense of Williams becomes a conflict of interest since she became a judge. And nobody will be surprised if lawyers for Sprague and Abraham ask the judge to recuse herself.

Candidate McCaffery was successful with his Election Court challenge. Eight years ago, Judge Allan L. Tereshko ruled against Williams, kicking him off the ballot two months before the May 2009 Democratic primary election.

It was a temporary victory, however. Williams appealed the decision. A month later, a panel of three Commonwealth Court judges voted to reinstate Williams on the Democratic primary ballot. McCaffery declined to appeal the case. And Williams went on to be elected the first of two four-year terms as the city’s first African-American District Attorney.

But then Williams was hit with a 23-count federal indictment alleging extortion, bribery, wire fraud and honest services fraud. Williams has pleaded not guilty to all the charges and is scheduled to go to trial next month. Meanwhile, the D.A. has refused to step down from office, although he has agreed to temporarily suspend his license to practice law.

The lawsuit filed by Sprague and Abraham on April 3rd in Philadelphia Common Pleas Court charges that Pennsylvania law prevents Williams from serving as D.A. without a valid law license. The lawsuit claims that Williams "will undoubtedly use" his $175,000 salary as D.A. "to fund his criminal defense."

In court, Richard Burke, a lawyer for Williams, filed a memorandum of law saying that plaintiff Abraham, a former D.A., had failed to prove that any private interest was affected by the current D.A.'s "possession of a suspended law license."

Burke also argued that plaintiff Sprague, a former First Assistant District Attorney, had failed to offer any explanation as to how "the absence of an active law license by the elected district attorney will impact any of the ordinary and routine decisions of the office."

A district attorney, Burke wrote, can only be removed form office upon conviction of a crime, or by a governor for reasonable cause after impeachment by two-thirds of the state senate. Absent those two conditions, D.A. Williams deserves to remain in office, his lawyer argued.

In Election Court eight years ago, George Bochetto was the lawyer who represented McCaffery, an unsuccessful candidate for D.A. It was Williams' sloppy bookkeeping that got him in trouble. Along with an over-dependance on his mother's credit cards.

In his closing argument, Bochetto said of Williams, “He shows up with having received . . . more than $10,000 worth of checks from his campaign.” And to explain what he did with the undisclosed income from his PAC, Bochetto said of Williams, “He shows up with $700 worth of receipts.”

They included a receipt for an Apple martini at the Devon Horse Show and a parking stub for $1.25.

It was an “insult to the voters and the [election] process,” Bochetto argued to the judge.  Those receipts, which “could have been for anything for anybody, somehow justifies over $10,00 worth of cash payments to him out of his campaign.”

In Election Court, defense lawyer Fletman tried to argue that Williams didn’t break any campaign laws if he acted in good faith.

But the judge wasn't buying it.

“I will tell you categorically  that is not the law,” Judge Tereshko responded. “That is not the law.”


  1. I read some articles on this site and I think your blog is really interesting and has great information. Thank you for your sharing.

  2. Ralph - great reporting......'a panel of three Commonwealth Court judges voted to reinstate Williams.'


    Do you know the names of these prominent jurists?

    1. who are these judges???

    2. These judges were President-Judge BONNIE LEADBETTER, Judge, DORIS SMITH-RIBNER and Judge JOHNNY BUTLER

  3. Remove The Judge On This Case!,,,,

  4. George, as always, well done. Sadly your old colleagues at the Inquirer always seem to go easy on Rufus Seth Williams. I guess McCoy feels guilty going after his old sources, Williams and Fina etc.

  5. It's Not George! It's Ralph.^

  6. In this ongoing saga, an anonymous poster previously suggested that some of Mr. Williams's dealings may be shrouded in grand jury secrecy.

    Sure enough, the DA's office, specifically Kathy Martin who has assumed the lead legal role in the office, is putting up one hell of a fight to keep grand jury information away from the Feds.

    One must ask - what interest would the DA's office have in hiding grand jury information from the Feds?

    Fortunately, Judge Diamond is having none of it. The DA's office has until noon to provide keywords that could identify state grand jury information in Seth's emails that should be protected.

    Is it time for another shoe to drop? Will this keyword list be a "list of satisfied customers?"

  7. And now we have a pretty, admitted lesbian judge ('married' to another woman) passing judgement.

  8. Judge Fletman just recused herself.


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