A Week After Kane's Resignation, Pennsylvania Swears In New AG

by | August 31, 2016

By Angela Couloumbis

The state Senate made a rare summer return to the Capitol Tuesday, voting to confirm a former top state prosecutor to replace the convicted Kathleen G. Kane as attorney general.

Bruce Beemer, a onetime top aide to Kane, was approved unanimously by the chamber, with many senators saying they had confidence that he would restore calm and credibility to an agency beleaguered by negative headlines during Kane's tumultuous tenure.

"It's no secret that the Attorney General's office has gone through some difficult times over the last year or two," Beemer, a 47-year-old Allegheny County Democrat, told members of the Senate Judiciary Committee shortly before the floor vote. " ... I will endeavor to restore a sense of honor and integrity to the office. We have struggled with that over the last couple of years."

He was sworn in by Pennsylvania Supreme Court Chief Justice Thomas G. Saylor during a private ceremony in Gov. Tom Wolf's reception room, Wolf spokesman Jeff Sheridan said.

Beemer's confirmation ended the short tenure of Bruce L. Castor Jr. as the agency's acting chief. It was not immediately clear if Beemer would ask Castor, a former Montgomery County commissioner and district attorney hired by Kane in March, to stay on.

Castor became the acting attorney general when Kane resigned this month after a jury found her guilty of abusing her office. She was convicted of leaking secret grand jury information in a bid to discredit a former state prosecutor with whom she was feuding, and later lying about it under oath.

Kane's four-year term expires in January. Voters in November will elect a new attorney general.

In his short tenure, Beemer will face many difficult decisions.

Out of the gate, Beemer will have to deal with the continuing fallout from the long-running pornographic email scandal that exploded under Kane's tenure.

Late last year she hired a special prosecutor, Douglas Gansler, to complete an extensive review of emails she said she discovered on her office's computer servers. The email traffic included pornography, offensive jokes and other inappropriate material that had been swapped by prosecutors, judges and others. Gansler, Maryland's former attorney general, completed the report last week. He sent notices to hundreds of state employees and others whose emails he flagged in his review, asking them to respond.

The report's public release has been delayed after concerns were raised that Gansler had not given many people named in the report _ those he deemed as having sent fewer than 50 emails _ copies of their messages so that they could respond appropriately.

It now falls to Beemer to deal with how to proceed.

He will also have to decide whether to keep some of Kane's more controversial hires.

Among them is Jonathan Duecker, Kane's onetime chief of staff, who remains employed despite accusations by two female employees that he had made unwanted sexual advances toward them. Kane's own human resources department had recommended firing him.

Also among them is Kane's onetime driver, Patrick Reese, who was accused of illegally spying on colleagues' emails and convicted and sentenced to prison for criminal contempt.

While he appeals the verdict, Kane has allowed Reese to keep his $99,658-a-year position despite an internal policy that calls for the suspension of employees charged with crimes involving their official duties.

Beemer, who has worked for two decades as a state and county prosecutor, was a key witness against Kane in the trial. She was convicted of two felony counts of perjury and seven misdemeanor counts of abusing the power of her office. The day after her conviction, she announced her resignation.

Beemer served as Kane's second-in-command until July, when Wolf named him Pennsylvania's inspector general, a post in which he investigates wrongdoing or wasteful spending by government employees.

(c)2016 The Philadelphia Inquirer