Philadelphia District Attorney Seth Williams is pushing forward with an ambitious plan to reorganize both his staff and the courts to refocus prosecutions by city neighborhoods, the Philadelphia Inquirer reports. Williams wants to reassign about 100 of his prosecutors – one third of the staff – into six teams that each would cover a large swath of the city. These teams would handle cases at each step in the criminal-justice process.
Williams is seeking the state Supreme Court’s backing to reorganize the Philadelphia courts in tandem, also along neighborhood lines. Justice Seamus McCaffery, a leader in a high court push to reform city courts, has endorsed the plan. The courts would set aside different floors of the massive downtown courthouse to hear cases from the six neighborhood zones. Most significant, the courts would stop scheduling hundreds of preliminary hearings weekly in the roll-call rooms at six neighborhood police districts. The cases would instead take place at the 14-story courthouse. “It’s a fundamental, system-wide change,” Williams said in an interview. The change would make it easier for police to testify at court hearings. Now, they are often scheduled in multiple courtrooms around the city at the same time. “This is going to be a major, major step,” McCaffery said.