Pennsylvania has a new attorney general, and this one is not a felon. But he is quite possibly the only lawyer in Pennsylvania who rivals Kathleen Kane when it comes to controversy.
Meet Bruce Castor, the sometimes-crass attorney from Montgomery County chosen by Kane as her No. 2 earlier this year. He’s most famous for losing a race to be attorney general in 2004, and more recently declining to prosecute Bill Cosby for sexual assault in 2005.
Castor’s a Republican, but hasn’t identified with the far right and has even been criticized by his own party for having working relationships with Democrats like Kane, who he’s taking over for after she resigned Tuesday following her conviction on charges of perjury, abuse of office and conspiracy.
And you should know, this is Castor’s dream come true. He desperately wanted to be attorney general in 2004 and had his eyes on a gubernatorial run after that. But he lost, and didn’t win re-election to be the Montgomery County District Attorney last year.
Now, by happenstance, he’s finally getting his chance to be Pennsylvania’s top law enforcement officer. The 54-year-old is even holding off on his formal swearing-in ceremony so his parents can be there because, “They’ve waited 12 years for this to happen” and “they ought to see it.”
Meanwhile, the legislature isn’t exactly thrilled and Gov. Tom Wolf, who has the ability to appoint an acting attorney general to succeed Kane, has shrugged so far when it comes to Castor taking the reins as one of the top officials in the state.
It’s not exactly clear how long he’ll hold this position. It could be until January when the next attorney general is brought in. Or, as Senate Majority Jake Corman has implied, legislative leaders will work with Wolf to name someone new. Safe to say though that Castor’s pretty confident in his own abilities to lead the office.
“I doubt that there’s anybody in Pennsylvania,” he said during a press conference Tuesday, “that has more experience or brings more knowledge to the game than me.”
How we got here
Already a controversial figure in Pennsylvania (we’ll get to that later), Castor was brought to Scranton to meet with Kane this spring. He was working in private practice at the time, and has since told reporters that he thought maybe she was asking him to represent her in some of her, ahem, ongoing legal matters.
She didn’t. Instead, she asked him to serve as the “Solicitor General,” a position Kane created for Castor so that he could be her new second-in-command beginning in March 2016 rather than her sitting first deputy attorney general Bruce Beemer, who testified against her before a grand jury. Castor would come in and be the guy who would make all the major legal decisions because Kane’s law license had been temporarily suspended.
Castor almost immediately set off yet another debate about how things are handled in the office. It’s possible his hiring wasn’t even legal under Pennsylvania law. For decades, it’s been standard that prosecutors in the Office of the Attorney General do not also work in private practice. That wasn’t the case for Castor, who kept his job at Rogers Castor in Ardmore, where he’s a partner.
Then, just after he got to Harrisburg, he settled a lawsuit filed by Kane’s sister, Ellen Granahan, also an employee in the Office of the Attorney General, who claimed she was owed a raise and back pay because she was discriminated against because of her gender. Castor settled with Granahan on the basis he said she was discriminated against, not because of her gender, but because she was Kane’s sister. So Granahan was awarded a 20 percent raise and another $80,000 as a side package.
In June, Wolf named Beemer the state’s first Inspector General, so Castor formally took over as the first deputy attorney general, placing him squarely in line to be the head of the office should Kane be convicted, resign, be impeached or any and all of the above.
The Bill Cosby situation
Bruce Castor finally got his moment in the national spotlight last year. He was running to be district attorney of Montgomery County, a post he’d held before between 2000 and 2008. And his name was all over the news — largely because reporters figured out that if he won, it’s possible disgraced comedian Bill Cosby would never face criminal charges in Pennsylvania.
In 2005, Castor was the district attorney in Montgomery County when police fielded a report that Andrea Constand, a former Temple employee, said she was sexually assaulted by Cosby in his Cheltenham home a year earlier. Castor testified during a hearing earlier this year that he didn’t criminally charge Cosby because he didn’t think the case was winnable. So, he said, he made a deal: Cosby wouldn’t be charged criminally, so long as he didn’t plead the fifth — ie, not refuse to testify under the Fifth Amendment because he could incriminate himself — in a civil suit filed by Constand.
“The prosecutor, according to Pennsylvania rules, says that the prosecutor is a minister of justice. And I did not believe it was just to go forward with the criminal prosecution but I wanted there to be some measure of justice,” Castor testified in February. “So I made the final determination as the sovereign — and not Bruce Castor, District Attorney; I am the sovereign of Montgomery County, Pennsylvania. As the sovereign I determined we would not prosecute Mr. Cosby, and that would then set off a chain of events that I thought would gain some justice for Ms. Andrea Constand.”
Clearly, that came back to bite him. As he was running to be district attorney last year, his opponent Kevin Steele — who was the first deputy under then-D.A. Risa Vetri Ferman — spent nearly $100,000 running ads saying Castor “was not looking out for victims,” and Steele vowed to re-examine the case if elected. Though dozens of women have publicly accused Cosby of sexual violence, Constand’s case is one of the only ones that was not yet past the statute of limitations.
Steele ended up winning. He did re-open the case, and in December just days before the 12-year statute of limitations ran up on Constand’s case, Steele filed charges against Cosby. To this day, they remain the only criminal charges Cosby faces. And Castor’s name still looms large over the case.
Last fall, Constand filed a civil lawsuit against Castor. And naturally, reporters on a national level who have a high interest in the Cosby case wanted to know why Castor didn’t prosecute the comedian back in ’05. In January, he wrote in a now-deleted tweet: “REPORTERS: STOP CALLING MY PARENTS, AND NEVER AGAIN SHOW UP AT OUR HOUSE ON A WORK DAY WHEN MY WIFE IS HOME ALONE. UNBELIEVABLE.” Then, on Facebook, he threatened to greet them at the door with a gun:
Cosby is heading toward trial. It’s possible we’ll see Castor back in the courtroom as his case continues.
He did do other things in Montco
Castor joined the Montgomery County District Attorney’s office way back in the mid-1980s and made his way up the ranks to make his first run for D.A. in 1999, which he won. In the Republican primary, he ran against Steven O’Neill — who is now a Montgomery County judge presiding over the Cosby case. Small world.
Castor served two terms as D.A. and was pretty well-respected. He tried a number of high-profile cases, and won a conviction and a death sentence against John C. Eichinger, the most well-known serial killer in Montgomery County history. Eichinger was convicted of murdering 27-year-old Heather Greaves, her 23-year-old sister Lisa and Heather’s 3-year-old daughter Avery in 2005 in King of Prussia. He was also convicted of stabbing 20-year-old Jennifer Still in 1999 in Bridgeport.
In 2004, Castor ran for — and lost — a bid to be attorney general. More on that later, but after two terms as district attorney, he still had his eye on statewide office and ran to win a seat on the Montgomery County Board of Commissioners. He won, but at the time the board was fraught with in-fighting and controversy.
Castor claimed his two co-commissioners, Republican Jim Matthews and Democrat Joe Hoeffel, were icing him out of policy conversations. Castor was constantly alleging misconduct on both their parts, and publicly claiming they were involved in corruption. And what do you know? Matthews was later arrested on charges of perjury in relation to a grand jury investigation. Hoeffel was never charged with a crime, Matthews’ charges were dismissed after he entered an ARD program and gave some money to a non-profit.
Things changed in Castor’s second term on the board of commissioners. For the first time in Montgomery County history, two Democrats were elected to the board — Josh Shapiro and Leslie Richards. Shapiro was unanimously elected chair of the board, and the three went on for four years to be productive and report that they were getting along better than ever.
Shapiro’s now the Democratic nominee for attorney general. And he and Castor — though they’re from different parties — are pals. So maybe, just maybe, that means that if Shapiro wins in November, Castor will have a spot in Harrisburg once again come January.
In 2008, Castor started working as a defense attorney at Elliott, Greenleaf & Siedzikowski, a Philly-based law firm with offices across the state. There, Castor’s most high-profile client was Marko Jaric, a former NBA player with the Grizzlies who was accused of sexual assault while in Philadelphia in 2009 for a game against the Sixers. Jaric was never charged with a crime.
Castor is now a partner at Rogers Castor in Ardmore, and perhaps his most famous client is Stacy Parks Miller, the Centre County District Attorney whose been embroiled in plenty of scandals of her own. She was under investigation by the Office of the Attorney General for allegedly forging the signature of a sitting judge to approve a wiretap, but the OAG declined to press charges against her.
Sources also told Billy Penn in March that the Pennsylvania Supreme Court’s Disciplinary Board investigated Parks Miller for allegedly using a Facebook profile to communicate with defendants her office was prosecuting.
Parks Miller is still the D.A. in Centre County. And she’s since brought Castor on as a special assistant in the office to help her get things in order.
Castor ran in 2004 for attorney general in the Republican primary against a guy from Pittsburgh named Tom Corbett, who would eventually go on to not only win the office in the general election, but follow Castor’s dream and become the governor shortly thereafter.
The campaign between Corbett and Castor was fierce. First, Corbett slammed Castor in the press for receiving a $600,000 donation from former U.S. Transportation Secretary Drew Lewis, who Castor’s office had once prosecuted for a D.U.I. Corbett essentially wondered aloud of Lewis, who served his sentence at a cushy rehab center in Connecticut, received special treatment.
Castor fired back at Corbett. The Post-Gazette described here what went down:
Castor’s campaign replied with an attack on one of Corbett’s most important donors: former Republican Party Chairman Robert Asher. Without pointing out Asher’s party connection, the Castor campaign repeatedly attacked Corbett for accepting donations given or arranged by “a convicted felon.” Asher was imprisoned in a corruption scandal in the 1980s, but later returned to resume a prominent role in Pennsylvania Republican politics.
After that, Castor didn’t even ask for the state GOP’s endorsement.
“I think the Republican Party leadership forgot that candidates are chosen by the voters and not the guys in the back room,” Castor said at the time. “I think they misunderstood the depth of my commitment.”
Not having the endorsement of the party proved to be Castor’s downfall. He lost election for attorney general. Since then, his name’s been floated for other statewide offices every few years. In 2014, it seemed he was seriously considering a run for governor against Corbett. He even set up BruceCastor.com, which appeared to be a campaign website. In the end, he decided against running.
Now, as the acting attorney general, Castor finally has his chance.