Meet Seth Williams’ New No. 2 Man

Defense lawyer Tariq El-Shabazz will become the district attorney's first assistant. In May, he punched Williams in the face for charity.
Defense attorney Tariq Karim El-Shabazz (center) will become District Attorney Seth Williams's top deputy.

Defense attorney Tariq Karim El-Shabazz (center) will become District Attorney Seth Williams’s top assistant.

District Attorney Seth Williams just handed a top job in the D.A.’s Office to a guy who recently punched him in the face.

O.K., we’re oversimplifying things a little. Hang on.

During a press conference Thursday morning, Williams announced that he’s hiring defense attorney Tariq El-Shabazz to serve as the deputy for investigations, and as first assistant district attorney. The role of first assistant is currently held by George Mosee Jr., who is slated to soon retire.

This isn’t El-Shabazz’s first brush with the D.A.’s Office; he worked there under then-District Attorney Ronald Castille in the late 1980s and early ’90s. In fact, years ago, El-Shabazz recruited a young Seth Williams to work in the D.A.’s Office.

“Tariq El-Shabazz has decades of award-winning legal experience, both as a prosecutor and a defense attorney,” Williams said. “In addition to being an outspoken voice for justice, fair policing, just prosecutions and open communications with the public, he was a powerhouse prosecutor years ago, and is currently an unmatched advocate for strong connection and two-way communication between our neighborhoods and the Philadelphia District Attorney’s Office.”

A large crowd of prosecutors attended the press conference, and listened to Williams outline the policies he’s implemented during his two terms. He touched on the complexity of the current climate in law enforcement — the tensions between police and minority communities across the country, and broad calls to reform the criminal justice system.

Williams noted that he long relied on local NAACP leader J. Whyatt Mondesire for advice and guidance. Since Mondesire’s death last fall, Williams said, he’s turned to Mosee and El-Shabazz for input.  “Welcome home,” he said, as he turned to face El-Shabazz.

The D.A. also praised Mosee, who’s worked for the D.A.’s office for 28 years. “He’s recognized nationally as a leader in juvenile justice. His skill and heart are unmatched,” Williams said. “In many ways, he is the moral compass of the District Attorney’s Office.”

Williams also oddly seemed to throw a bit of shade at Ed McCann, who left the office in November, and held the position of first assistant before Mosee. “My only regret — and I often ask [Mosee] to forgive me — my only regret is that I did not follow my gut instinct and name him my first assistant when I first became district attorney,” Williams said.

El-Shabazz said his new position is “probably one of the most humbling appointments that anyone has ever given me.” He was asked how he would make the transition from one side of the criminal justice system to the other. “When you stand for justice and you stand for right, there’s no transition,” he said.

Now, about the punch: Williams and El-Shabazz strapped on the gloves and climbed into a boxing ring together at Temple University’s Liacouras Center in May. They want at if for three rounds as part of a charity fundraiser. Williams had trained with former boxer Joey DeMalavez, but El-Shabazz was awarded the decision.

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