- Associated Press - Tuesday, March 29, 2016

HARRISBURG, Pa. (AP) - Pennsylvania’s embattled attorney general hired as her second-in-command a former district attorney who has become a central figure in Bill Cosby’s criminal defense.

Attorney General Kathleen Kane announced Tuesday she has created the position of solicitor general and filled it with Bruce Castor, a former district attorney and elected commissioner in the Philadelphia suburb of Montgomery County.

Cosby’s lawyers have been trying to get a sex assault charge against him dismissed, including on the grounds that Castor gave Cosby a verbal immunity deal a decade ago. A judge threw out that claim last month, but the comedian’s lawyers appealed.

Based on new evidence, Cosby was charged in December with sexually assaulting a former Temple University employee at his home in 2004.

Castor, a Republican, will be paid a $150,000 salary and can maintain a private law practice on the side. He did not return phone messages seeking comment, and agency spokesman Chuck Ardo said he was busy becoming acclimated to the office.

“She has come to the conclusion that adding that position will help make the office more efficient as the administration draws to a close,” Ardo said.

Kane, a Democrat, is not seeking re-election this year as she awaits trial in August on charges she unlawfully leaked secret grand jury material to a newspaper and then lied about it under oath. Her term expires in January.

In a pair of memos about the appointment that took effect March 21, Kane gave broad authority to Castor.

She referred to him as her chief policy adviser and gave him power to make decisions on “law-related activities or law-related services.” Kane’s own ability to perform those tasks has been questioned since the state Supreme Court voted unanimously in September to suspend her law license.

Kane was inspired to create the position by attorneys general in other states, who have solicitors general under them, Ardo said.

Asked if Kane had any misgivings about Castor’s involvement in the Cosby case, Ardo said she believes Castor is “supremely qualified to fill the role she has chosen to put him in and believes that he is looking forward and not backward.”

First Deputy Attorney General Bruce Beemer, who has been making law-related decisions during Kane’s suspension, will report to Castor, but will remain first in line of succession should Kane die or otherwise vacate the office, Kane said in a statement.

Beemer in December joined three other senior lawyers with the office in testimony before a special panel considering possible removal of Kane by the Senate, a process that fell short of the required supermajority last month. Beemer spoke about concerns that Kane’s suspended license could affect cases and that Kane had not responded to a list of issues they raised to her in a letter.

He said at that time there were unresolved questions about who had legal authority to make personnel decisions. Beemer also raised doubts in a January letter to a state senator about whether Kane was legally qualified to appoint an outside law firm to review her office’s emails.

An implementation memo signed by Kane on Tuesday said Castor will ensure he does not learn who may have provided evidence against Kane to the Montgomery County district attorney’s office, which charged Kane.

Castor “shall do everything within his power not to read or listen to any media accounts pertaining to the (Kane case), and shall immediately report to the attorney general if he inadvertently learns any detail of that matter from any source,” Kane wrote.

The document did not explain why Castor was directed to avoid learning details about Kane’s criminal investigation, and Kane’s official spokesman could not explain it.

Prosecutors say Kane engineered a leak in 2014 to a Philadelphia Daily News reporter about a years-old investigation into the then-head of the NAACP chapter in Philadelphia. The leak allegedly was an attempt to discredit two former state prosecutors and critics who oversaw the probe. It did not produce charges against the NAACP official.

Kane has denied breaking the law and is fighting the charges in court.

Castor was Montgomery County’s district attorney from 2000 to 2008 and served as a county commissioner from 2008 until January. He lost a race for another term as district attorney last year.

Castor attended Lafayette College in Easton and Washington and Lee Law School in Virginia.

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