Attorney General’s Office walks back response to lawsuit filing

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Pennsylvania Attorney General Kathleen Kane’s office was inundated with phone calls Wednesday about a Sept. 5 filing in response to a lawsuit brought by a former Rockview state prison employee who was brutally raped by an inmate last year.

On Tuesday, the Centre Daily Times reported that the filing in defense of the state Department of Corrections and three employees answered the suit of the victim of Omar Best, a Rockview inmate who was convicted in May of the brutal 27-minute attack against the prison employee in July 2013. The 24-year-old woman was choked unconscious, raped and left on the floor of her unit manager’s office on the cell block.

The document, “respectfully submitted by” Kane, according to federal court paperwork, denies 104 of the 154 assertions made by the plaintiff’s attorneys and puts forth the affirmative defenses planned to refute the suit. Included in those is “contributory negligence,” a legal argument that the victim might be partially responsible.

Kane spokesman David Tyler said Wednesday the attorney general didn’t write the document. Although it was submitted under her name, as the state’s top lawyer, it actually was drafted and submitted by Senior Deputy Attorney General Timothy Keating.

Chief Deputy Attorney General Gregory Neuhauser, head of the civil litigation section, is also named on the document as counsel for the defense.

“She didn’t even know about this,” said Tyler, who said Kane’s name is attached to hundreds of documents every week, most of which she did not author and might not have read.

“Every single document says that,” he said, referring to the inclusion of the attorney general’s name.

The office declined comment on the case and the filing Tuesday, before the story was published, but on Wednesday was fielding calls from other media.

A statement answering the questions about the filing, and the Kane’s knowledge of it, was issued Wednesday.

“Attorney General Kane and her office are sensitive to the extraordinary challenges victims face in both the criminal and civil processes, particularly in cases involving sexual assault,” the statement said.

It explained that the Office of Attorney General defends commonwealth agencies in litigation and that the office is required to present all possible defenses.

“Contributory negligence is one such defense the office often presents on behalf of our clients — whether we like it or not — so that this defense can be preserved,” the statement said. “This initial filing should not necessarily be interpreted as meaning this defense will be pursued throughout the entire case.”

Kane, according to the statement, was disappointed that she was “not made aware of this matter prior to the filing, and was saddened to learn that the filing implied that the victim somehow contributed to this crime.”

But Cliff Rieders, the Williamsport lawyer representing the rape victim didn’t buy it.

“My response is that we are all responsible for what our staffs do,” Rieders said. “When it goes out the door and it has your name on it, it’s yours.”