Senate approves Beemer as Pa. attorney general

Pennsylvania Attorney General
Bruce Beemer was second-in-command to former Attorney General Kathleen G. Kane until July.

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

Bruce Beemer, once a key aide to Kane, was approved unanimously by the chamber, with many senators saying they had confidence he would restore calm and credibility to an agency beleaguered by scandal and infighting during Kane's 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 the Senate Judiciary Committee before the 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."

Beemer was later sworn in by Pennsylvania Supreme Court Chief Justice Thomas G. Saylor during a private ceremony in Gov. Wolf's reception room.

The governor, who nominated Beemer and attended his swearing-in, said the longtime prosecutor "has the unique experience and skill set . . . to begin the healing necessary to put the Attorney General's Office back on track. He is trusted by the rank-and-file members of the office and understands better than anyone what must be fixed to restore the public trust."

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 district attorney and commissioner hired by Kane in March, to stay.

Castor became acting attorney general when Kane resigned after her conviction on perjury, obstruction, and other charges. In an interview Tuesday, Castor said he had packed his belongings, but was awaiting "further instructions" on his fate.

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

The swiftness with which Beemer was confirmed was rare in the Capitol, where confirmations often become long and arduous.

Senators on the Judiciary Committee did not ask a single question during his confirmation hearing.

"We don't name bridges that quick," quipped Rep. Mike Vereb (R., Montgomery).

In his short tenure, Beemer will face many difficult decisions. Out of the box, he will have to deal with fallout from the long-running email scandal that unfolded 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 shared by prosecutors, judges, and others.

Gansler, a former Maryland attorney general, completed the report last week and sent notices to hundreds of state employees and others whose emails he flagged, 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 copies of their messages so that they could respond appropriately.

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

Beemer said only that he would swiftly review the report to see what can be released while also protecting "the due process rights of anybody who might be involved."

Sen. Judy Schwank (D., Berks) urged him to be transparent about the report's findings.

"We can't ignore the misogynistic, homophobic, bigoted, and pornographic emails sent and received within that office and also by many other people in the justice system," she said, calling the scandal "a festering wound that must be cleaned."

Beemer will also have to decide whether to retain 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.

Also still on the payroll, with a $99,658-a-year job, is Kane's onetime driver, Patrick Reese, who is appealing after being convicted and sentenced to prison for criminal contempt.

Beemer served as Kane's second-in-command until July, when Wolf named him Pennsylvania's inspector general.

But their relationship had been strained for more than a year. Prosecutors said that as her troubles mounted, Kane threatened to fire top staffers in her office who did not do her bidding.

"If I get taken out of here in handcuffs," she once told him, according to Beemer, "what do you think my last act would be?"

Ultimately, he became a key trial witness against her.

acouloumbis@phillynews.com

717-787-5934 @AngelasInk