Philadelphia City Hall building.
Philadelphia City Hall building. (Photo: f11photo/

Since former District Attorney Seth Williams abruptly pleaded guilty to a bribery charge and resigned from the office last month, Philadelphia has been without an official chief prosecutor.

Although voters are set to choose Williams’ replacement in the general election in November, the process to find an interim replacement is well underway, and interest for the interim post has been high. As of the deadline for submitting applications, which was 2 p.m. July 14, at least eight candidates were said to have applied for the position.

If there is a consistent theme from the candidates who spoke with The Legal about why they are seeking the interim post, it is respect for the office and an interest in making sure that the office sees a smooth transition at the end of the year.

Here are the candidates who applied for the position, and their reasons for seeking the interim position.

Lynne Abraham

Lynne Abraham, who was initially elected as district attorney on an interim basis in 1991 and then led the office for nearly two decades, confirmed that she submitted her application for the interim position.

Abraham said she not only wants to “make the ship a steady craft until January,” but she is also the best person to do so, since she spent 19 years as district attorney and nearly 30 years in the office.

“I think the prosecutors’ office has had a tremendous blow to its morale, and its sense of self-respect. The public has lost confidence in many aspects of the office because of its failed leadership,” she said. “Nobody could run the office as competently as I can.”

Former Assistant U.S. Attorney Joe Khan, who is currently working of counsel to Spector Gadon & Rosen, also confirmed that he submitted an application for the position. Khan, who also prosecuted sex assault cases in the District Attorney’s Office, said he wanted to ensure the office would see a smooth transition.

Joe Khan.

“I spent my entire career as a prosecutor, and I only left to mount a challenge against Seth Williams,” he said. “It’s an opportunity to serve the city. I would work to immediately restore public confidence in the District Attorney’s Office, to stabilize the crisis that continues in that office, and to work so we can provide as smooth a transition as possible as we prepare to welcome a new district attorney new year.”

Not all of the candidates seeking the interim position come from outside the District Attorney’s Office.

A spokesman for the office also confirmed that First Assistant Kathleen Martin submitted an application.

In a statement to the press, spokesman Cameron Kline said the office is “committed to continuing our good work and the mission of the Office.”

“We want to do everything we can to guarantee that someone from inside the office continues to lead and ensures ongoing stability, consistency, and continuity,” Kline said in the statement.

Kelley Hodge, Elliot Greenleaf

Elliott Greenleaf attorney Kelley Hodge is also seeking the interim position. Hodge spent eight years in the District Attorneys’ Office, eventually becoming chief of the Municipal Court unit and assistant chief of the Juvenile Division, before she was appointed as the state’s Safe Schools Advocate in 2011. Her desire to seek the interim position comes from an “appreciation and respect for the office,” she said.

“Living in Philadelphia I have always wanted to see the best from that office, and I know from personal experience what it takes to work in that office and to do the work well,” she said.

Former Philadelphia Judge Benjamin Lerner is also competing for the interim post. Lerner spent 15 years leading the Defender Association of Philadelphia, and also had a stint as a prosecutor in the 1970s, when he led the state Attorney General’s Office of Criminal Law.

Despite the limited time he would serve, Lerner said he would work to both ease tensions within the office and “re-establish the reputation” of the office.

“I can help the good people in that office restore morale to some degree, and focus the community’s attention on the fact that none of the problems attributed to the District Attorney’s Office over the past several months ought to be on their shoulders,” Lerner said. “I want to help convey the message that the District Attorney’s Office is and has been filled with wonderful, committed, motivated men and women.”

One element connecting Lerner to the office is that, when he led the Defenders Association, he hired Larry Krasner, the Democratic candidate seeking to be the city’s next full-term district attorney.

When asked about the connection, Lerner suggested that the situation was “ironic,” but ultimately downplayed any significance.

Webster Keogh

“There are a lot of people now on the court and throughout the criminal justice system, on both sides, who were hired at the Defenders Association during my tenure,” he said.

Numerous court watchers said—and The Philadelphia Inquirer also reported—that retired Judges Paul Panepinto, William Manfredi and D. Webster Keogh were expected to submit applications for the interim position. Panepinto, Manfredi and Keogh each did not return a message seeking comment July 14.

A special committee of the city’s Board of Judges is expected to review applications early this week, and qualified applicants are set to make presentations before the board Wednesday. The board, which consists of all the judges on the Philadelphia Court of Common Pleas, is expected to vote Thursday.