There is a new special assistant district attorney in Centre County.
District Attorney Stacy Parks Miller appointed Bruce Castor Jr. to that position Friday morning. Castor has represented Parks Miller since forgery allegations against the district attorney went public in January. He also represents Parks Miller in a lawsuit filed last month against the county and local attorneys regarding the state Right-to-Know Law.
According to the oath of office, his duties in that capacity will “extend only to cases involving efforts to disqualify the district attorney of Centre County and her assistants from prosecuting cases, and such other matters as the district attorney might assign to me from time to time.” The appointment can be revoked by Parks Miller at any time or for any reason.
The oath was administered by Judge Jonathan Grine before a 10 a.m. hearing on motions filed by attorney Sean McGraw to disqualify Parks Miller and her office from prosecuting cases against two of his clients, Justin Blake and Gabriel Shull. Parks Miller cited Castor’s experience and knowledge of the cases as reasons for appointing him.
“It only made sense to appoint him to argue the recusal motion in the event I needed to be called as a witness since a lawyer cannot be a lawyer and a witness in the same proceeding,” Parks Miller said.
Such appointments are standard and authorized by statute, Parks Miller said. Temporary assistants can be appointed by contract or personnel agreement with the county or the district attorney, according to a statute in the Pennsylvania County Code. Any attorney-at-law can be appointed to such posts, the statute reads.
Castor is in private practice at the law firm of Rogers Castor and was a longtime prosecutor in Montgomery County before serving as district attorney there from 2000 until 2008. He is seeking re-election to that post. He is currently a Montgomery County commissioner.
Castor said he’s not being paid in his capacity as special assistant in Centre County, but Parks Miller said she plans to seek compensation for Castor.
“I’ll have to petition the county salary board to determine if I get paid,” Castor said.
The county salary board is composed of the Board of Commissioners and the county controller. Commissioners were unaware of the appointment until Friday morning and the salary board had taken no action on it, Commissioner Steve Dershem said. While Parks Miller may have the authority to make appointments, no one can receive pay from the county without salary board approval, he said.
Dershem and Exarchos also expressed concerns over the appointment of Castor, specifically in his role representing Parks Miller in the suit against the county.
“I don’t think this action is going to benefit the residents of this county,” Exarchos said. “It raises some issues, legal and ethical issues.”
Both Castor and Parks Miller said they didn’t see any ethical implications stemming from the appointment. Assistant district attorneys throughout the state maintain private practices, Castor said. Parks Miller said she and the lawyers working with her researched the matter and found no impediments.
Grine said Parks Miller contacted him this morning to administer the oath of office, which took place at 8:30 a.m. at his home. He was off for the day and planned to leave town at about 9 a.m. and had them stop by before he left, he said.
Swearing in Castor at his home is not out of the ordinary and he does other parts of his job from home as well, Grine said. Administering oaths of office to a wide range of county and municipal employees is part of his job, Grine said, adding that he would’ve sworn in any qualified person brought before him Friday.
“All I’m doing is my job,” Grine said. “I would swear him in like a traffic monitor or a police officer.”