Friday, October 30, 2015

Montco DA Debate (Sort Of)

I listened to what was a scheduled debate between candidates for Montgomery County District Attorney.  One candidate was not able to attend.  The interview is now available online at the program's website and I encourage interested voters to listen for themselves.  I took rough notes, provided below.  They are not intended as a full transcript.  As always, I apologize in advance for any errors or misconceptions.  Please visit the candidates' websites or contact the campaigns for further information.

A few personal comments are provided at the end. 

WPNV 1440 Comment Please, West Main Diner in Lansdale, October 28, 2015

Scheduled debate between candidates for Montgomery County District Attorney

Bruce Castor, Republican, had to cancel due to a family medical emergency

Kevin Steele, Democrat, had the entire hour to himself

Darryl Berger, interviewer

Opening Statement

KS: God, country, family come first.  I hope everything is okay with Castor.  I’ve been with Montco DA office for over 20 years, currently first Assistant DA.  Husband, father, coach kids sports, vp of local fire dept, president of Penn State alumni association right now.  Running because it is important to have a DA who will serve victims, stand up for victims, proud of the fact that we’ve been able to take politics out of the office, work with 146 people who come to work every day to do the right thing.

Q:  Penn state question.  James Franklin stay or go?

KS:  hope he stays.

Q:  Bill Cosby.  What is your take, you put out a commercial on this

KS:  The commercial outlines some of the differences between me and my opponent, talks about my record in the office and his record in the office.  Something people should be thinking about when they vote.  Former DA failure to prosecute when he had the opportunity.  Talks about some of the comments that have been made.  Something voters should look at.

Q:  Is it an open case?

KS:   can’t get into that, but that doesn’t prevent others from getting into that, victim’s attorney has made some comments and she is free to do that.

Q:  what was available when this was filed originally?  Were there other statements or only rumors?

KS:  if you look at Castor’s own press release back then he said he reviewed statements from others who had made accusations, other victims got things from Castor’s own file, also did a commercial saying he didn’t have other victims and I should have done something about it.  That commercial has been taken down.  In his own release he talked about other statements he had reviewed, other victims mentioned back in 2005. In terms of I should have done something.  That’s an interesting and tricky statement.  I’m not currently the DA.  I can’t speak about past or ongoing cases.  Maybe that’s something he should have thought about before he went on tv and talked about the victim.  Others can talk about it.  Victim’s attorney has been talking about it. 

Q;  Decision not to prosecute made in office by a group including current DA?

KS:  Castor was the DA.  He released a statement saying he decided not to prosecute.  Now we’re in a place where he’s trying to conceal what he did in that case by throwing a victim under the bus.  He has said things about this lady in the national media.  When you’re publicly dishonest about people you face ramifications.  I understand he is now in a civil lawsuit over statements he made about not prosecuting.

Q:  Did that compel Cosby to testify in civil case?

KS:  again revisionist history.  He’s taking claim for a settlement made in a civil case.  That’s not a role for a prosecutor to take credit for, getting a paycheck for a victim.  He’s indicated that he had a role in this somehow because he got involved in giving Cosby immunity.  Let’s break that down.  If you give someone immunity, that’s on behalf of the plaintiff in the civil suit.  Mentions an interview Castor did with Harry Hairston.  Victim's attorney said she had never met him.  Then to say that’s something he was party to.  Not only did he go to the press about declining prosecution, he didn’t go to the victim before he made that announcement.  It’s all revisionist history.

Q:  Castor said he sent a notification to attorney and they didn’t get it because of a faulty fax machine.

KS:  Maybe if you have contact with people and not send things out on a fax machine.  You have to talk with victims.

Q:  Castor’s lack of sensitivity.  What is role of DA in terms of relating to victims and families?

KS:  in the DA’s office we have a special role as ministers of justice.  We represent the victims, the community, the police.  There are things are in place in PA that represent our obligation to victims.   That’s part of what we have to do in working with victims.  We work with a number of agencies to make sure victims are taken care of.

Q:  you worked with Castor, what do you think of him as a DA

KS:  Turn to where we are now.  Back when he was DA he did a fine job but things change over time.  You said in an earlier interview that he doesn’t need science and to say that now is irresponsible.  At a crime scene now we work with science and technology to do what’s right and take that before a jury..  I’ve been on the cutting edge of that.  I’ve worked on best practices committees.  We’re a model because of things we’re doing now. 

Q:  You are the lead prosecutor in case involving Kathleen Kane.  What can you say about the case?

KS:  Not a whole lot.  I am the prosecutor assigned to this case, with partner in Bucks County Michelle Henry (first ADA in Bucks).  We have a hearing coming up.  We’re proceeding with that case on Nov. 10th

Q:  Why the decision to bring in Michelle Henry, former DA now first assistant DA in Bucks?

KS:  when talking with others about cases involving statewide issues.  We have a great partner working with me to bring justice.  Not unusual.  I’ve gone to other places and worked with other prosecutors.  I took vacation and went out to Adams County and prosecuted a case with someone there.  That’s what we do, work together. 

Q: Castor indicated he would shift gears and you would be the lead prosecutor on the case.

KS:  I’ve heard the comments made about reviewing the case.  I don’t think that’s an opportunity that he’s going to have.  I saw his comment about basically putting the Bucks Co office to the curb.  When I got over the arrogance of a statement like that, this is an important case that people have worked hard on over a period of time.  To say you’re doing to change gears mid-stream is naïve to the extent we are involved with.

Q:  Was there a political conversation about making you the lead case given the context of the race

KS:  There’s no politics in prosecuting.  There’s no politics in the office now, or over the last 8 years.  That isn’t something we look at.  We look at doing the right thing. 

Q:  You are suggesting politics played a role under Castor’s term as DA

KS:  He’s testified federally about doing politics in the office.  That was in existence during his administration.  Last time he won the role as DA a month later he was running for another office.  That’s a pattern of politics being there.  I started in office over 20 years ago.  I have not wavered in that.  Worked my way up, now second in command.  Not a politician.  Maybe I’ve been naïve to some of this process.  I’m doing this because I want to make a difference in people’s lives.

Q;  You used to be a Republican, when did you change registration?

KS:  My change in registration doesn’t look at a change in my views.  I’ve always been fiscally conservative, socially progressive, looked at what is around me, local politics around me.  Gotten to work closely with county commissioners Josh Shapiro and Val Arkoosh, seen what they’ve been able to do and what they’ve bene able to do in Montgomery County.  Like others in Montco looking at where we are and who represents us in the right way.  If the Republican Party is one of Castor and Trump I don’t want to belong.  Change not based on wish to run.

Q:  Changes made internally after review of how decisions being made, some of that in the wake of charges of Bob Kerns, GOP head.  What have those changes been and what has effect been?

KS:  That also illustrates in important comparison on how you deal with mistakes.  This was based on a mistake in the reading of a lab report.  We embraced that and made changes in how we did things.  We embraced the victim first and did everything we could to make sure justice was done.  We handed that case off and it was successfully prosecuted by another agency.  We’ve won an award based on this.  We’ve put in checks and balances on how we handle things.  Embrace mistakes and change things. Go back to Cosby.  Castor filed to prosecute case, given a chance to change things, won’t apologize, now he’s part of a defamation case.  Make things right.  That’s what we did.  His arrogance leads him to not apologize.  You have to apologize.

Q: You were on a heroin task force

KS:  This is one of our epidemics.  Most significant issues that we have moving forward.  I’ve been on the forefront.  There is a heroin epidemic in Montco.  Usually a pattern where someone is involved with prescription drugs and then moves to heroin.  The task force looks at ways to deal with those issues.  Narcotics Prevention Education, go to schools and talk to kids, I talk with them police talks with them, then a mother or sister talks about what happens when they go down that track.  How we’re getting these prescription drug boxes so people can safely dispose of prescription meds so they don’t’ get into kids’ hands.  Quick story.  One of our undercover detectives was making a buy for cocaine, the dealer wanted to sell him heroine.  He said he didn’t have a market.  Dealer pointed to nearby school and said give it away there and you’ll have a market.  We are focusing on this issue and making a difference.  Another issue is dealing with addicts.  Having narcan in police cars and first responders’ cars.  Using drug dealers’ money to put this in all the cars in montco.  I’m very behind treatment courts, one of which is drug court.  It’s hard.  You have to be in there a lot.  It’s making a difference.  Recidivism numbers going down.  There’s a lot of work to be done.  I’m in the best place to take this forward.  I was captain of our narcotics unit, trained statewide. 

Q:  state forfeiture law, change?

KS:  We’re talking about people involved in dealing drugs.  Part of the forfeiture law, funds confiscated, done in a conservative way in Montco, make sure it’s the right thing being done.  If we have this money we don’t need to use taxpayer money for overtime or training or equipment or programs we have out there.  Narcotics Overdose training, reached over 16K kids, paid for by forfeiture money.  Amount per year varies, not a budgetary item, depending on investigation.  We hear people don’t want to come to Montco to do crimes.

Q:  role of technology, social media, csi, etc.  how does that change what prosecutors do?

KS:  Quick example, in Pottstown, they were afraid to have their children sleep by windows because of gunfire going on, 16 or 17 shootings between warring gangs, people wouldn’t cooperate.  We used wiretaps and were able to get in and understand organization structure, using technology to stop crime.  There was one man a gang was lining up to kill twice and we were able to stop that.  We have to make the good people feel safe and they are coming out now.  Last Friday I was at Hilltown Hightop (?) High School on a vacation day to help clean up the community.  That’s helping the community.  We do appreciate criminals to be stupid enough to post things on social media.  There’s investigative uses, and rules, in everything and prosecutors sworn to follow the Constitution.  We have a lot of hoops we have to jump through.

Q:  how would you use office as bully pulpit?

KS:  I think I’m doing it now and hope my history is clear to people.  Narcotics Overdose Prevention – I’m in the schools and trying to make a different to them.  Tell them how much I care about them and how I hope they do great things.    We have an obligation to protect the public.  We’re out there trying to make a difference.  That’s why we do a lot of education.  As issues arise it’s the mission of a prosecutor to be out on the forefront and make a difference.

Q:  Norristown

KS:  working with law enforcement community there.  Rate has actually gone down.  Have a 100% solve rate from 2013 forward in homicide, nationwide about 64%.  We are doing extraordinary things in those types of cases.  We’re making a difference there.

Closing Statement

KS:  I’m running for DA to make a difference in people’s lives.  Hope they will join in and backing me for this position, like law enforcement has.  They know Castor and me well.  All of the FOP throughout Montco, the four that we have, are backing me.  21 DAs across the state have endorsed me.  I did not go and become a defense attorney.  Stayed in this office to help victims and work with people, to find justice in these cases.  Have a history of taking most egregious cases. 

DB: Thanks Wayne Sharp for hosting.  Sorry both candidates can’t be here.  Scheduled well in advance so thought it best to continue.  We wish Castor well as he deals with a family issue.  I can only remember one other time when we only had one candidate.  Not unprecedented but unusual.  

Personal comments

Darryl Berger is a fantastic interviewer and is able to interject a follow up question or comment so effortlessly that it is hard to record when he spoke if it wasn't the start of a formal question.  Thus he actually had more to say than is recorded.

I've heard Bruce Castor several times over the years at debates and interviews.  In my personal opinion he has always been a bit of a publicity hound.  He seems to like the limelight.  Again, that's a personal view.

I've met Kevin Steele once, at a multi-candidate event.  I thought he was very sharp, very nice, and a little intimidating.  He had reminded me in some ways of people I know who have been police officers for years, keen-eyed and observant, slightly clipped speech, always aware of their surroundings.  Of course that was just one meeting.  

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