What's next for Pennsylvania's attorney general's office?
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After Kathleen Kane coasted to victory last week in the race for Pennsylvania attorney general, becoming the first Democrat to hold the post since it became an elective one and the first woman elected for the job, some legal and political observers said the office would focus more on advocating for consumer protection.
"The thing that will change the most is the making use of the public advocacy authority of the attorney general," said Louis J. Rovelli, who spent more than three decades in the office.
Among the three main duties of the office -- criminal prosecutions, civil representation of the commonwealth and public protection -- Mr. Rovelli said he would expect public and consumer protection cases to "receive greater emphasis in a Democratic institution."
Ms. Kane, a former Lackawanna County assistant district attorney, beat Republican candidate David Freed, the district attorney of Cumberland County, in what was a Democratic sweep of the state's three row offices on election night. With more than 56 percent, Ms. Kane was the leading vote-getter on the statewide ballot.
The office has been an elected position since 1980 and had been controlled exclusively by Republicans until Tuesday. The list of elected attorneys general includes Gov. Tom Corbett, whose administration Ms. Kane vowed to "investigate" regarding its handling of the Jerry Sandusky sex-abuse scandal.
While Ms. Kane has long stressed she is a "prosecutor, not a politician," her breaking of a GOP monopoly, after first securing the Democratic nomination over a well-known former congressman, Patrick Murphy, reflects the execution of an effective political strategy.
"I think she ran the best campaign of any Democratic candidate for attorney general's office since the office of attorney general became elective," Mr. Rovelli said. "It's a real milestone for the state of Pennsylvania to have a Democratic attorney general for the first time."
One of Ms. Kane's biggest legal backers said the candidate first struck him because of her interest in learning about the office. According to Donald E. Haviland Jr., Ms. Kane wanted to know where the office had succeeded and where it had fallen short.
Mr. Haviland said his Philadelphia firm, Haviland Hughes, donated to and supported both candidates. However, at the end of the day, Mr. Haviland said Ms. Kane was the better candidate.
In talking with her, Mr. Haviland said he quickly learned she would be "more receptive to hearing about what's going on in the country" and assessing those issues at home in Pennsylvania.
It's "the kind of thing we haven't had since the office was put in place," he said.
Mr. Haviland has represented the state in suits against pharmaceutical companies for overcharging the state for prescription drug reimbursements and said Ms. Kane "fits the mold very well" of an attorney general who would not let political considerations factor into the commonwealth's civil or prosecutorial scope.
One example of that "mold" to which Mr. Haviland pointed was Beau Biden, the Delaware attorney general who recently made headlines for bringing a lawsuit against a national mortgage registry for deceptive trade practices.
"Banks, of all things," Mr. Haviland said. "Banks in Delaware. It's potentially political suicide for somebody." (Delaware, because of its tax code, is the corporate home of many banks and credit card companies.)
Sean Connolly, public relations lead at the Bravo Group in Harrisburg, said Ms. Kane's first order of business as chief legal officer needs to be transition.
"Attorney General-elect Kane now needs to assemble a transition team that understands how the office of attorney general operates and how it can better serve the people of Pennsylvania," Mr. Connolly said. "It's great to run for office as an outsider but once you take over, you need to be able to get things done.
"That's where a transition team becomes invaluable."
Thomas G. Wilkinson Jr., president of the Pennsylvania Bar Association, said the state bar plans to welcome Ms. Kane by inviting her to meet with its leaders.
The association has collaborated with past attorneys general on issues ranging from the unauthorized practice of law, consumer protection cases, campaigns on child-abuse reporting requirements, and "safe surf" Internet protection measures and online bullying prevention.
"Her passion for child protection dovetails with a number of our initiatives," Mr. Wilkinson said.
First Published November 12, 2012 12:00 am