HARRISBURG - For decades, the Attorney General's Office has had a hard-and-fast rule: Its prosecutors may not moonlight as private lawyers.
Attorney General Kathleen G. Kane deviated from that policy this week when she hired former Montgomery County District Attorney Bruce L. Castor Jr. into a newly created, $150,000-a-year executive position.
Castor, whose private legal practice has included criminal-defense work, will be allowed to keep his outside legal work even as he serves as second-in-command to the state's top prosecutor. His clients have included a high-profile public official who was investigated - and cleared - by Kane's office last year.
Kane spokesman Chuck Ardo said Wednesday that the attorney general believes that "getting someone with the experience and expertise Mr. Castor brings . . . is worthy of the exception."
Some say his dual role could create conflicts. The policy barring outside employment is meant to ensure that private interests do not interfere with public work.
"You want to avoid even the appearance of impropriety - the appearance that you will somehow use your public position to gain leverage in your private practice," said Jeffrey Lindy, a veteran Philadelphia defense lawyer.
Castor said Wednesday he did not believe that his outside legal work would create problems. He said he had consulted with ethics experts at two "major Philadelphia law firms" to ensure he was on solid footing.
"I don't see how it's going to cause a conflict," Castor said of his legal work, which he described as representing people in "noncriminal" matters.
In his new role as solicitor general, Castor will be Kane's top deputy and chief policy adviser, weighing in on "all aspects" of the office's operations, including criminal and civil cases, according to Kane's official summary of his duties.
Kane, whose law license was suspended last year after she was charged with perjury and other crimes, also granted Castor the power to approve wiretaps. She simultaneously withdrew that authority from other prosecutors.
Castor's powers now exceed that of Kane's first deputy, Bruce Beemer, with whom she has a tense relationship. Beemer testified against Kane before the grand jury in her criminal case and is expected to be called as a witness at her August trial.
At the same time, Castor will be allowed to continue working for his firm, Rogers & Associates in Ardmore, where he focuses on cases involving victims of crime and personal injury. His official bio also says he handles white-collar crime cases, but Castor said that reference is outdated and that he no longer does criminal-defense work.
He will also be permitted to continue serving as a special assistant district attorney in Centre County. He was appointed to that unpaid position by Centre County District Attorney Stacy Parks Miller.
In that role, Castor has defended the district attorney against allegations that she forged a judge's signature on a court order approving a wiretap. Kane's office investigated the alleged forgery, and a grand jury cleared Parks Miller last summer.
Lawyer Samuel C. Stretton, an expert in legal ethics, said Kane had violated state law by hiring Castor and giving him duties superior to those of Beemer.
"It is improper, illegal, violates the statute," he said in an interview Wednesday.
He also faulted Kane for permitting Castor to maintain a private law practice as he takes on his new government job.
Stretton noted that the Pennsylvania Bar Association, in an advisory ethics opinion dating back to 1971, said lawyers serving as prosecutors in one county should not work as defense attorneys in another.
If a lawyer who served as a prosecutor in one county won an acquittal in another, "the suspicion might be created that special courtesies were extended to him," the opinion letter reads. "By the same token, if his case turned out badly, his client might feel that he had been sold out."
Stretton, whose clients include state prosecutors who report to Kane, said the attorney general should not permit Castor to maintain his dual roles. "It creates a conflict of interest," he said.
Last year, Stretton legally clashed with Parks Miller when Castor was assisting her as a special assistant district attorney.
Walter Cohen, a former first deputy attorney general in Pennsylvania, disagreed with Stretton's analysis, saying he saw no legal bar to Castor's hiring.
However, Cohen said he believed it would be best for Castor to wrap up any lingering private legal work and focus solely on his work for Kane.
"Everyone else in the Attorney General's Office is full time," he said. "And I think the boss should be full time."