Editor’s note: This is the first installment in a series of articles examining the people, departments and practices of the Philadelphia District Attorney’s Office.
For Philadelphia District Attorney Kelley Hodge, coming back to the prosecutor’s office after spending the past few years in-house and working in private practice is like slipping back into a comfortable and familiar pair of shoes.
With one big difference.
“They’re a whole lot bigger than they used to be,” Hodge said. “The role and demands of being district attorney are clearly larger on the administrative side. There’s a lot more attention to those things than when you’re in the trial realm.”
But, even though Hodge is set to return to private practice at the end of the year when the newly-elected district attorney steps in for a full term, the interim district attorney does not plan to stand still in those comfortable shoes, but rather to keep the office marching forward.
Hodge has been Philadelphia’s top prosecutor since the First Judicial District’s Board of Judges chose her in July to take over in the tumultuous wake of former District Attorney R. Seth Williams, who pleaded guilty to a bribery charge in June. Since taking over, Hodge has made high-level staffing changes and is working to implement several new programs and initiatives she said she hopes will outlast her tenure.
Hodge graduated from the University of Virginia in 1993, and worked in the Philadelphia District Attorney’s Office from 2004 until 2011, rising from the position of a line prosecutor to the chief of the Municipal Court Unit and then assistant chief of the Juvenile Court Unit.
At the time she left, the office was in the midst of changing its approach toward prosecution and launching several new initiatives, such as geographically oriented prosecution units and diversionary programs aimed at reducing recidivism.
Those programs took root in the years since she left the office, she said. But, coming back to familiar faces, she said, has been instrumental in getting her up to speed on all the institutional changes that have taken place.
Since taking over as head of the office, Hodge has been reaching out to community interests and neighboring jurisdictions, and has worked to enhance several high-interest programs within the office.
One issue of increasing importance is the opioid epidemic, Hodge said. She said the office has been looking to collaborate more closely with neighboring jurisdictions to increase efficiencies among the offices and target high-incident drug trafficking.
Another priority the office has only recently begun to develop is an enhanced process for handling hate, or bias-related, crimes. Specifically, prosecutors are working on developing a program to help the office assess potentially bias-motivated crimes, where prosecutors would eventually either handle the case directly, or refer the allegations to the Pennsylvania or Philadelphia human relations commissions, which enforce civil rights statutes and ordinances.
“I am looking to take concerted efforts to make people in the community know that if they have been the victim of assault or a threat of harm that they know has its root cause in a bias then they can have that addressed,” Hodge said.
When it comes to the top brass in the office, Hodge has made several changes there as well. Hodge made long-time high-level deputy John Delaney first deputy, and named Sybil Murphy as the head of the Department of Investigations. Hodge also tapped Kathleen Martin, who had been first deputy under Williams and headed the office immediately after his bribery plea, to head the Department of Administration and Technology.
The changes, Hodge said, were made to address some attrition that had left top positions empty in the administration.
“I felt that cannot be left vacant. It was far too important,” Hodge said.
Hodge said the changes are aimed at furthering the mission of the office as an effective voice for victims, and she plans to urge whoever is elected as the next full-term district attorney to continue the new initiatives she has enacted.
“I can only make the decisions at this point based on what I believe will further [the mission of the office],” Hodge said. “I can only hope that my successor will go ahead and agree that anything I have put in place, or that predates me, has viability, or is worthwhile.”
Along with moving the office forward, Hodge said she is also focused on preparing for the eventual transition next year, when either Democrat Larry Krasner or Republican Beth Grossman—the two main candidates for the district attorney position—succeed her. The office, Hodge said, has been gathering necessary materials and preparing internally for the transition, but she said she plans to wait until after the election before making any formal transition efforts.
“My goal is to make sure to have them come in on day one and be ready to go,” she said.
Although some in the criminal bar speculated that Hodge may want to stay on in a leading position in the next administration, Hodge said returning to private practice at Elliott Greenleaf, where she had been before taking the interim post, was a key consideration in her applying for the position.
So, in January, Hodge is set to leave the office for a second time, but the changes she’s made might remain in place.