Philadelphia D.A. Seth Williams brings personal experiences to ethics class
November 28, 2012
In introducing Philadelphia District Attorney Seth Williams to his professional responsibility classmates, James Hendershot '14 said that Williams personifies the characteristics of a professionally responsible prosecutor the class had been studying. "We have learned that a prosecutor is more than just an advocate for victims of crime, but a minister of justice. That is, a prosecutor is committed to the service of the public as a whole, and a prosecutor's ethical obligations reflect this," he said.
Williams shared examples of those experiences asking students what they would do in various circumstances. One common theme across cases was getting the right people charged with the right set of charges. "My job is not to get a conviction. When you charge somebody, it destroys their reputation....It's important that our office exonerates people who are not guilty," he said. He has tripled the size of his charging unit and insists that his D.A.'s use more discernment including doing their own investigations if necessary to ultimately ensure that justice is done.
Williams graduated from Penn State University serving as President of the Black Caucus and later President of the Undergraduate Student Government, representing all 57,000 undergraduate students. He told students that his father graduated from Penn State as one of only 12 African American students in his class. Williams continued on to Georgetown University’s School of Law where he graduated with distinction as a Public Interest Scholar in 1992. After graduation, Williams returned home to Philadelphia to continue his service to the public in the city’s District Attorney’s office.
Williams spent ten years as an Assistant D.A., during which time he was appointed Assistant Chief of the Municipal Court. He also created and led the Repeat Offenders Unit aimed at reducing the high percentage of crimes committed by repeat offenders.
In 2005, Williams was appointed Inspector General of the City of Philadelphia and charged with the duty of investigating all allegations of corruption, fraud, waste, and abuse among other things. He left the position in 2008 with praise from the mayor for his work as the city’s municipal corruption watchdog.
In 2009, Williams became the first African American District Attorney in Philadelphia and the state of Pennsylvania.
In wrapping up his class he said the role of a D.A. is to "weigh everything as to the equities. My client is justice."