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Judge wants speedy trial for Philadelphia’s top prosecutor

PHILADELPHIA (AP) — A judge wants Philadelphia’s top prosecutor to go on trial by next month on bribery charges because of what he called “the public’s right to a speedy trial” and the case’s potentially “calamitous effect” on the court system.

U.S. District Judge Paul Diamond on Tuesday rejected a bid by prosecutors to designate District Attorney Seth Williams’ case complex and give them more time to prepare. Such requests are routinely granted in cases like the 23-count bribery and extortion indictment issued March 21.

However, Williams is running the office despite surrendering his law license after his arrest, Diamond noted. And he said the government’s projected two-week case, which involves three alleged schemes, doesn’t appear “especially complex.”

He set a tentative May 31 trial date, but said Williams can seek a delay once the government turns over its witness list.

“I am hard-pressed to think of a case where the public’s right to a speedy trial is more pressing than it is here: the largest prosecutors’ office in the commonwealth is being run by someone who is not licensed to practice law and is himself charged with 23 federal crimes,” Diamond wrote.

He said federal prosecutors should not have issued the indictment unless they were ready for trial, since the charges “have an obvious and possibly calamitous effect on the city’s criminal justice system as well as on the city itself.”

Williams, 50, already has taken heat from a magistrate judge when he sought to change lawyers a week after the indictment. The city paid his legal bills until he was charged, but Williams had to scramble afterward to hire a lawyer given financial problems that lie at the heart of the case. Williams makes $175,000 a year in the elected post, but has said he struggles to pay his bills following a divorce. He also is known to frequent upscale restaurants and social clubs and enjoy luxury vacations.

The indictment accuses the two-term Democrat of accepting more than $100,000 in gifts in exchange for helping friends with legal problems. He also is charged with stealing $20,000 earmarked for his mother’s nursing home care. Williams has belatedly reported accepting about $175,000 worth of gifts while in office. However, his lawyers deny that he ever promised any official favors in return.

Defense lawyer Thomas Burke did not immediately return messages seeking comment Tuesday.

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