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Nazareth, Pa., United States

Tuesday, September 02, 2008

Is the State AG Powerless?

According to DA John Morganelli, who is challenging Tom Corbett as the top crime dog this November, the AG definitely has the authority to appoint a special prosecutor. In fact, he's done it before. In 1996 and 1997, Corbett twice appointed a special prosecutor in instances where he had a conflict.

The person appointed? John Morganelli.

Corbett recently told the Indiana Gazette editorial board he lacks such power. Obviouslt, that's untrue, says John Morganelli. In addition to his own appointment, he points to a specific statute (Independent Counsel Authorization Act).

Capitol Ideas lumps the AG's race in with other state row offices. "The offices have been historically low-profile, and their responsibilities are arcane and difficult to boil down to TV-friendly sound-bites." He posted a blog about the race because The Morning Call declined to run a story about it. He even quotes some law professor who claims, "It's an office that has no power."

Excuse me? The state's chief law enforcement officer has no power?

Ask Scissorhands Severson how he feels about that. At a time when our urban cores are being destroyed by gangs and drugs, a strong AG just might make a difference. It might also help if the MSM drew some public attention to this important race.

It might even be as important as Musikfest.


John Micek said...

As re: the AG's office having "no power," here's the full context:

Voters approved a constitutional amendment making the attorney general's post an elected one. But its actual powers and responsibilities are set by law. That means an attorney general can interpret his mandate as broadly - or as narrowly - as he or she chooses.
"It's an office that has no power," said Bruce Ledewitz, a professor at Duquesne University. Law School and an expert in state constitutional law. "It's really a creature of statute."

What Prof. Ledewitz actually said was that the state Constitution, in an odd twist, gives the office itself no power. All its duties are defined by statute, which means it's only as powerful as lawmakers allow it to be, or as the holder of the office interprets his or her mandate.

Of course, the AG as the state's chief law enforcement officer, has tremendous authority. I was trying to point out one of the eccentricities of the post.

Bernie O'Hare said...


I linked to your post and believe it is very telling. This is the state's chief prosecuting officer. It is an extremely powerful position.

Perhaps in H-burg, it's not considered that big a deal. But out here in the pits, we are painfully aware of the need for a strong state prosecutor.

But the whole thing amazes me. Corbett plays down his authority. You lump it with other row offices, which actually are arcane. For whatever reason, the paper does not run the story. A law professor claims the office has no power.

It's all a bit surreal. This is the state's second most powerful position.

John Micek said...


Until the Attorney General's office stops being a statewide row office, I'm not sure how it can't be considered among the three.

It is true the responsibilities of the auditor general and treasurer are more arcane than those of the attorney general.

But if you speak to either campaign, they will tell you of the difficulties they face trying to attract voters' attention in a year when there's a presidential or gubernatorial race at the top of the ticket. That's not a trivialization of the office, it's a political (albeit unfortunate) reality.

I've written several stories on the AG's race and plan to cover it as I can until Election Day for the very reasons you mention.

You have chosen to focus your comments this morning on items in the bottom half of the story. And, of course, fair cop to you on that.

But the top half of the post focuses on the fact that the race is now beginning in earnest and that both Messrs. Morganelli and Corbett are going to have to compete for attention this fall.

Think of this as a place-setter for what's to come.


Bernie O'Hare said...


I do. I thought your blog was fascinating, so I plagiarized as much as I could. One of the issues in this race concerns the powers of the AG. Is he really so powerless as that Duquesne law professor seems to imply? It appears to me that Morganelli views it as a much more powerful office.

Yes, people should read your post in its entirety. But I can't post more than a link and a few quotes or you'll have me shot for copyright infringement.

The AG won't prosecute you, either. No power.

Anonymous said...

What about the claim by Corbett that there is no independent prosecutor law, or that the one in existence has expired?
I looked at the law cited by Morganelli (as best as I could decipher it) and it appears Corbett is right, the law Morganelli cites requires a panel (of legislators, apparently) to appoint a prosecutor, I don't read it as saying Corbett can by himself appoint one. If so, then Morganelli is splitting hairs and spinning facts and Corbett is being realistic (if not politically practical).
I wish someone could tell me who is telling the truth. That would mean more to me than wondering aloud if the AG office is powerful or simply another row office.

Bernie O'Hare said...

As I understand John's argument, the Independent Counsel Authorization Act expired in 2003. But Pennsylvania law recognizes the express power of the Attorney General to appoint “special investigative counsel” or “special deputy attorney generals” when necessary to avoid a conflict of interest on the part of the attorney general under the still in effect Commonwealth's Attorneys Act, Section 205.

Corbett has used this act and so has former AG Ernie Preate.

Anonymous said...

OK, so Corbett is right in not being able to appoint a "special prosecutor" unless he has a conflict of interest. HMMMMM. Wasn't the Lower Mac Twp embezzler a Republican? And didn't her case drag on so long she passed away? And isn't the money all long gone? And weren't the Lehigh County DA and county judges all members of the same GOP? Yet, no one accused anyone of having a political conflict of interest.
Point being, no one is going to step down due to a critic's (or political opponent's) claim of a conflict.
I'm not a Republican but I see Corbett's side of things here. Morganelli is acting like a politico, not a prosecutor.

Bernie O'Hare said...

In the Marge Szulborski case, I think DA Martin would have had to step down and seek a special prosecutor if he had a relationship with her. If she was a frequent contributor, prosecuting her could be a conflict. The fact that they are members of the same party is not a conflcit.

Joe Long and I, for example, are both Democrats.

In Bonusgate, the evidence of a potential conflict is a little stronger. Corbett is prosecuting people he campaigned to unseat. he's investigating Rs who contributed to his campaign.

So the Szulborski-Corbett analogy is a bit off.

Anonymous said...

Big John should have his relationship with Severson investigated. He has also worked to blur the lines between Judges and the DA'office by getting his people elected judge.
You again ignore the details when you support a person. You Mr. O'Hare are a one trick pony.

Bernie O'Hare said...

I have blogged extensively about Morganelli's relationship w/ Severson, far more than the MSM. In addition, I've been highly critical of Morganelli's practice of having his First Ass't DAs run for judge. You might recall that is one reason why I questioned Baratta's retention.

But I don't make decisions based on one issue, but on everything I know. Morganelli is the most accessible DA I've ever seen. he is also a very effective prosecutor and knows what it is like in the pits. Unlike many DAs, he's still willing to roll around in the give and take of jury trials. He's the best DA I've ever seen in NC, and that includes my dad, although my dad was a better litigator than anyone.

John gets my vote.

Lady Rep said...

Bernie, this is the second time that Morganelli has "used" case law that might just cut short of backing up his arguement. He really likes to stretch things to fit his positions in ways that are uncomfortable to me. The first time was when he tried to use case law from Ohio to blow over the lack of disclaimers on the Monahan attack pieces. He tried to make excuses for Severson that way. Who knows how many others there are that we would never know about?
I'm not accusing him of anything except being over-zealous in making his point fit the law. Concerns me.