Philadelphia’s new District Attorney Kelley Hodge may have less than five months left on her interim term as the city’s chief law enforcement officer, but she plans to accomplish quite a lot.
Hodge, who was sworn in as the city’s chief law enforcement officer on July 24, has been on the job less than three weeks, and took over the office following a public corruption scandal that led former District Attorney R. Seth Williams to plead guilty to a bribery charge. But Hodge, who was previously the University of Virginia’s first Title IX coordinator—a post that was carved out following a sex scandal based on a later retracted article from Rolling Stone magazine—is no stranger to handling an office during times of turmoil.
The Legal spoke with her about the office, what she hopes to accomplish during her tenure and what challenges she may face.
The exchange has been edited for clarity.
Q: Describe your first few weeks as DA? What have you accomplished and what is on your to-do list?
A: My priority in coming into the position and coming back into the office was to really get an idea of what the makeup of the office was in terms of personnel and where the leadership was in the work that they were doing. I spent a great deal of time in the first week and a half to two weeks talking to all the internal leadership, and having them, in essence, brief me on their various units and what they would identify as pressing issues that they are currently working on or that may be coming to the forefront in the time I’m here in the office.
Q: What do you see as your next steps?
A: In addition to just addressing the day-to-day things that are unscripted and unknown, I’m also looking to start working with the external partners who address crime and safety in this city. I’ve met with the mayor’s Public Safety Division, I’ve met with the commissioner of the police department, and I’ve met with and have meetings scheduled with the heads of the District Attorney’s Offices for the jurisdictions that border Philadelphia. I want to make sure that I’m reaching out to those law enforcement entities and those community organizations that will work with us very closely to try and address crime in and around this city.
Q: Are there any similarities coming to the University of Virginia in the wake of the Rolling Stone article, and coming to the District Attorney’s Office now?
A: One similarity would be that there’s a lot of attention on this office. There was a lot of attention at the University of Virginia on that position and that subject matter. In both instances, I would say, I’m similarly situated in terms of coming into a scenario where I know there’s been a lot of negative attention, and yet in both scenarios, I would say, and feel very comfortable saying, there’s a lot of good work being done and overshadowed, at least in terms of the University of Virginia, by a Rolling Stone article that turned out to be unfounded. Here in this office, people are doing good work and it was being overshadowed by the personal actions of one individual who was in the leadership role.
Q: If there is one goal you hope to accomplish, what would that be?
A: In addition to just really promoting the efforts that this office has made and will continue to make to really alleviate the issues of crime, I want to try and make the community aware of the good work that’s going on in the Criminal Justice Center, and to highlight our numerous diversionary programs and the effective partnerships we have. I’m looking to bolster, and re-engage those programs, and to try to make sure that people in the community recognize the District Attorney’s Office is the voice for victims. But our desire is to also try to promote strategies to reduce victimization. I want to make sure those things that address the root cause of criminal behavior are highlighted.
I’m also looking to prepare a portion of the time I’m here to the transition of the next district attorney. I’m looking to have all the materials I can to make sure that the transition is as smooth as possible.
Q: What have been the major difficulties or problems you have seen so far?
A: I wouldn’t necessary call them difficulties. This office is a working office. Many things are done day in and day out as a matter of course. Attorneys are going every day to the Criminal Justice Center and handling dockets and doing the difficult work of handling cases on a day-to-day basis. It’s very well-known and expected of the office. The things that need to be and continue to be worked on, and with help from the mayor’s office and the police office and many in the community, is the opioid epidemic, the issue of gun violence, and to see what efforts can be done to have a plan that involves as many systems and as many people as needed. I look to hopefully put us in a position to be a leader with our partners, and to have that in place and ready to be executed by the next district attorney.
Q: We have heard that, over the past few years, the office has lost many high- and mid-level prosecutors. Is that something you have noticed, or something you plan to address?
A: I will say, I’m looking forward. I really can’t give an explanation for any departures. It can be multifaceted, and as for the fluidity of the office that was obviously all done without my being present. For my time frame, clearly I am hoping to be a level of stability for the office if at all possible. I am not under some misguided thought process that there are people who will not depart, for better opportunities, or there could be a multitude and a host of other reasons, but we all would like to have good people, good attorneys and support staff stay, so I’m just going to respond accordingly if it comes up.
Q: Some have suggested you would be a good candidate for the first assistant position when the next district attorney comes into office. Is that something you are interested in?
A: My interest is in doing a good job now for the time that I’m here. I’m committed to returning to my law firm, and that was the commitment I made prior to submitting my application. No other opportunity has been presented to consider otherwise.
I think you can glean that I have a deep appreciation and respect for this office and always will. The people that are here, the work that they do, will always matter for me. At this point in time I’m not looking beyond the tenure that I have.
Q: what other impressions do you have from the first few weeks of your tenure?
A: I truly am looking forward to, and hopeful that in the time I’m here I’m able to help the office. That was my intent when I applied for this position. If selected, I wanted to be seen as the very best candidate No. 1, and, two, as the best person to help this office move forward and to let the good work of the office shine above and beyond the acts of any one individual.
It’s exciting to be back here. It’s a coming home for me. I’ve just enjoyed the interactions I’ve had with staff and the members of the office and the police department, who I’d seen in various capacities, but who I get to work more closely with now.
I’m very humbled and appreciative.