Acting Attorney General Bruce Castor believes his law firm is owed $126,000 by Centre County taxpayers, but county officials say they don’t need to pay it.
In an invoice and memo sent last month, unearthed through an open records request by Yardley stock trader Simon Campbell, Castor detailed the payments for his defense of Centre County District Attorney Stacy Parks Miller in a grand jury investigation, as well as a separate investigation launched by police and the Centre County Board of Commissioners. The overall tab came to $126,175, based on $650 hourly fees, but Castor offered a 20 percent discount for a total of $102,075 if the County paid by July 29.
Castor, who took over as Acting AG last week and has been working for the AG’s office since March, confirmed he had not been paid in a phone interview Monday.
“We offered to discount the cost because it was a public service, and we billed Centre County for it,” he told Billy Penn. “Centre County has declined to pay us.”
A memo Castor addressed to Centre County solicitor Elizabeth Dupuis on July 8 included language that his firm was retaining the details of the specific legal work it did for Parks Miller “should a court wish to review it … in the event our firm has to sue the county for payment.” Asked Monday if his firm would consider suing, Castor said, “I certainly hope it doesn’t come to that.”
Castor began defending Parks Miller in January 2015. The Centre County DA, who also allegedly friended defendants with a fake Facebook profile, was accused of forging a judge’s signature on a court order. The Centre County Board of Commissioners hired a law firm to assist in an investigation, and Bellefonte police searched her office. Parks Miller referred the matter to the Office of the Attorney General, which began a grand jury investigation.
In August of that year, after interviewing more than 20 witnesses, the Office of the Attorney General announced it would not recommend charges against Parks Miller. The AG’s office was still being run by Kathleen Kane, who resigned last week after being convicted on charges of perjury and obstruction.
Castor’s work involved court filings, including an emergency petition with the Pennsylvania Supreme Court seeking to stop the Commissioners’ and police department’s investigation, and defending Parks Miller during the grand jury investigation. He said he couldn’t remember how much he charged Parks Miller but said his general rate is around $650 an hour. The firm hired by the Centre County Board of Commissioners to assist with its legal services during the investigation charged $175 per hour for in-court services and $125 for out-of-court services.
The highest monthly fees charged by Castor came from invoices dated February 1 and March 1, 2015, for $27,680 and $63,215, respectively. At $650 an hour, Castor would have provided about 41 hours and 97 hours per month.
In April 2015, Castor was hired by Parks Miller as a special assistant district attorney. He did additional work for the county that he said he is not charging for.
“The rate would be not particularly high,” Castor said, “so my partner and I thought it was the public service to do that.”
In his memo to Centre County solicitor Dupuis, Castor argued that the county needed to cover the costs for his defense of Parks Miller based on a state law mandating local agencies pay legal fees for public officials acted against within the scope of their office, “upon the written request of an employee.”
Castor wrote, “DA Parks Miller had no choice but to seek outside counsel, because her own county’s government participated in advancing an investigation into her conduct knowing another agency had jurisdiction to do so, and in the face of a written warning from me,” citing a letter he sent the Commissioners in January 2015. That letter ended with Castor writing, “I therefore do not yet consider us in an adversarial legal position. I very much hope that does not change.”
“I think that ultimately we’re on pretty firm ground that somebody associated with Centre County, whether it’s an insurer or the county, is going to have to pay us,” Castor said Monday, “and I’m hoping it’s just a matter of negotiating.”
Centre County does not agree. Dupuis rejected Castor’s request for payment, writing the grand jury investigation was not covered by that particular law and that the grand jury investigation was initiated by Parks Miller. She also noted Parks Miller made no written request and Castor’s January 2015 letter couldn’t be interpreted as such.
Dupuis declined a Billy Penn interview request.
Bruce Antkowiak, a professor at St. Vincent College and expert on Pennsylvania’s constitution, said he couldn’t think of a statute that would require a county or public entity to cover legal costs for a public official in this type of situation without an agreement. Coverage of a public official’s legal fees generally extends to civil suits. Kane, for instance, paid for her own defense in her recent perjury and obstruction trial but has used public resources and campaign cash to defend herself in lawsuits.
In Pennsylvania political corruption cases, however, some politicians have used public money for their defense during investigations, with the funding ending if they get charged. These attorneys, such as in the Bonusgate scandal, are hired by the legislature. Parks Miller hired Castor on her own.
This April, several months after the grand jury declined to recommend charges against Parks Miller, The Legal Intelligencer reported Kane had a friendship with Parks Miller and gave “a clear directive” to investigators the DA shouldn’t be charged, citing anonymous sources.
Kane, who resigned after her conviction last week, created a new $150,000 position for Castor in in the AG’s Office in late March. He was promoted to first deputy attorney general in July, paving the way for him to assume Kane’s role after her resignation.
Bruce Ledewitz, a Duquesne law professor and associate dean of academic affairs, said it’s not unusual for private attorneys who enter public offices to have past legal cases that seem at odds with their current positions, and Castor has had an extensive career in both private and public law, sometimes concurrently. He was representing Parks Miller privately while serving as a special assistant district attorney for Centre County last year.
“You have to remember Bruce Castor is a really good attorney,” Ledewitz said. “There’s a reason why people continue turning to him.”
Castor said his law partner, Lance Rogers, handles business dealings for their firm, and that any further action they take with regards to the Centre County issue probably won’t happen until Castor is no longer Acting Attorney General.
That day could come soon. Governor Tom Wolf has appointed Bruce Beemer to be Attorney General for the remainder of Kane’s term, and Castor anticipates the Senate will soon approve him.
“I don’t expect to be in the Attorney General’s Office,” he said, “for that much longer.”