Castor steers legal decisions in OAG office

When Attorney General Kathleen Kane announced she had appointed a solicitor general, the announcement was fairly, well, general.

In tapping former Montgomery County district attorney Bruce Castor, Kane said in a release that the goal was “to strengthen and support the leadership of the Executive Office and further the initiatives” of her office.

Assistant press secretary Jeff Johnson said at that time that Castor would focus on policy and the position was to improve the efficiency in the office.

That was in March.

Since then, Castor has taken an increasingly prominent role in the OAG, making decisions, recommendations and announcements.

On Monday, for instance, Castor reversed gears on a planned event. The OAG had put out a press conference on Saturday that Kane would have a press release Tuesday about the investigation into Pennsylvania’s email scandal. A reminder email came Monday, but hours later, another email announced that Castor had canceled the conference.

In that press release, Castor was named as the person who had decided there would be a press conference, as well as the person who nixed it.

“The solicitor general had hoped he would have a draft of the preliminary report on Friday and didn’t have it until fairly late in the day. The more he reviewed it throughout the weekend, it became apparent he would have to postpone the conference,” Johnson said.

Does that mean that Castor’s role in the office is growing from policy and support to something more?

“I wouldn’t characterize it that way,” Johnson said. “He is the final authority on legal and policy decisions before the AG. She can’t on the legal side, but he takes her perspective into account.”

He is the final authority on legal and policy decisions before the AG. She can’t on the legal side, but he takes her perspective into account.

Assistant OAG press secretary Jeff Johnson

That is because Kane can’t be the legal authority. Her license was suspended in September by the state Supreme Court.

State Senate Majority Leader Jake Corman, R-Benner Township, said there were things that arose in state government, like a bond issue, that required the signature of the attorney general, with the assumption that the AG would have a law license, as that is a condition of the job.

“If she has no license, she can’t do it,” Corman said.

The Senate had a vote in February on removing Kane from office. The vote was 29-19 in favor of removal, but that fell short of the required two-thirds majority.

When it comes to the solicitor general, Corman finds the role hard to explain.

“It does give the appearance she isn’t there. I don’t know what his role is. I don’t think anyone does. It’s anyone’s guess who is running the place,” Corman said.

It’s anyone’s guess who is running the place.

State Senate Majority Leader Jake Corman

Castor has a short answer for the breakdown of powers.

“It really is quite simple. I am second in command in every aspect of the leadership of the OAG subordinate only to Attorney General Kane. The lone exception is I am the final word on all legal decisions,” he said. “Operating as a bridge to and from the senior staff, I make the wishes of the attorney general known to them and their advice and opinions known to her.”

That sounds as though Kane, who is in the midst of a very public court battle where she is the defendant, accused of perjury in connection with grand jury leaks, is less present. Both Johnson and Castor deny that, but Castor did detail his current duties.

“All cases, motions, filings, settlements, etc. are brought in my name as the Attorney for the Commonwealth,” he said. “I am the highest ranking deputy attorney general in the commonwealth, and the chief policy adviser to the attorney general who retains ultimate authority over policy and administration. I execute the policy and administrative decisions of the attorney general with the assistance of the chief of staff and first deputy to make certain we are operating within budget.”

When it comes to courthouse decisions, those are all from Castor, but he says that anything else is still the final decision of the woman elected to the job.

“I decide whether to search, arrest, wiretap, sue, appeal, settle and anything else requiring a legal determination. I do so without consulting with the attorney general, but I always keep her apprised of what we are doing,” he said. “She never opines or interferes with a legal decision. I may advise on a matter of policy or administration, but she makes those decisions and I carry out her wishes.”

He likens it to a naval vessel.

“...It should never come as a surprise that I would make decisions on behalf of OAG because I would, essentially be considered the executive officer under the commanding officer trusted with the full powers and responsibilities of the attorney general as she has granted them to me serving at her pleasure,” Castor said.

He does confirm that Kane is less of a daily presence lately, and that is why he is there, but says she is still an active part of the operation.

“We have offices all over including Scranton where she lives. The AG can tell me her policy and admin decisions from there. I confer with her every day. Most days more than once,” he said.

On Wednesday, the two were “traveling together to meet with various law enforcement people in the southeast,” Castor said.

The Tuesday press conference was one of those items they conferred on, too.

She still is the boss.

Solicitor General Bruce Castor

“She still is the boss. But I made the decision,” he said. “With the (press conference) today, she is not involved because the investigation has to be independent. I’m making sure the money we’re spending is getting the product we’re paying for fully. I have no interest in the outcome since I don’t care what the investigation turns up. That leaves me de facto the point of contact for Gansler and his team.”

He is speaking of former Maryland Attorney General Doug Gansler, the man who Kane appointed to investigate the pornographic and racist emails circulated between judges, prosecutors and other recipients. Gansler was appointed as a special prosecutor last year.

“As it turned out, Gansler and BuckleySandler LLP, Gansler’s law firm, were unable to comply with the aggressive timetable the solicitor general desired, and Solicitor General Castor saw no alternative apart from granting more time to the independent investigators to complete their comprehensive report. An opportunity to present the independent investigators’ findings will be scheduled over the summer,” the OAG said in a press release.

The increased responsibilities just keep coming.

Johnson confirmed Tuesday that OAG spokesman Chuck Ardo, who came on board in April 2015, would not be returning to the office.

“He has given notice that he does not intend to return, although the official process of ending his contract is still in the works,” Johnson said. “I don’t know that anyone else is going to take his position per se, but I will be running the day-to-day operations of the press office and the solicitor general has told me he intends to speak to the media on high profile matters.”

Castor has proved himself accessible to the media.

In Centre County, he has been a spokesman for District Attorney Stacy Parks Miller, who he represents in her lawsuit against the county, several officials, a judge and a host of attorneys. He has also served as her special deputy. He continues in both of those roles while solicitor general.

Castor has also made public his consideration of an investigation of The Second Mile, the children’s charity started by retired Penn State football defensive coordinator Jerry Sandusky, who is serving a 30- to 60-year sentence for child sex abuse crimes. The victims in the convictions came from The Second Mile, but settlements were paid by Penn State.

“It has troubled me that while we focused on PSU administrators, I have not seen what efforts we could make relative to the Second Mile and whether the leaders there knew of Sandusky’s proclivities and still allowed him access to children. I want to decide whether a further investigation is warranted before recommending to the attorney general that we undertake one,” he said in May.

Lori Falce: 814-235-3910, @LoriFalce