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Who's Corbett's pick for attorney general'

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Friday, Nov. 5, 2010

HARRISBURG -- Gov.-elect Tom Corbett in January will make an appointment unprecedented in recent history: nominating a successor to fill the remaining two years of his term as state attorney general.

Corbett, who was elected attorney general in 2004 and re-elected to a four-year term in 2008, will ask the state Senate to confirm his appointee, who will need approval by a two-thirds vote rather than a simple majority.

"I have a number of names in mind," Corbett said recently but declined to disclose them. "It would be presumptuous to name anyone."

The nominee will become the state's prosecutor and carry on the corruption investigation of the Legislature and other pending investigations, "wherever the evidence leads," said Corbett's spokesman, Kevin Harley. The attorney general defends the state in all lawsuits.

Since Pennsylvania's first elected attorney general took office in 1981, no attorney general has been elected governor, said G. Terry Madonna, a political science professor at Franklin & Marshall College in Lancaster.

A likely contender for the job is William H. Ryan Jr., Corbett's first assistant and a career prosecutor. Ryan, the former Delaware County district attorney, joined the Attorney General's Office in 1997.

He began his career as an intern with the Delaware County DA's Office and rose to the position of first assistant prosecutor there before winning his first election in 1981.

"I'd put my money on (Corbett's) top lieutenant," said Jim Roddey, the Allegheny County Republican Committee chairman and a key Corbett supporter.

Other possible contenders include Republican District Attorneys Ed Marsico of Dauphin County, Risa Vetri Ferman of Montgomery County and David Freed of Cumberland County. And Corbett has worked with a long list of prosecutors and former prosecutors in Pittsburgh.

On election night, Ryan attended Corbett's party for supporters at the Omni William Penn Hotel, Downtown. Asked about the possibility of his nomination, Ryan said he had not discussed it with Corbett.

"What I'd do is talk to Tom and take it from there," said Ryan, a graduate of Villanova Law School.

Corbett has called Ryan a "tough and experienced prosecutor" and a "top-flight manager."

Jack Barbour, a Pittsburgh lawyer who co-chaired Corbett's campaign, said numerous people tried to talk to him about appointments and "transition team issues," and he told them to wait until after the election.

"(Corbett) is playing it close to the vest," said Rep. Mike Vereb, R-Montgomery County, a friend.

If the governor-elect chooses someone else, Ryan would become acting attorney general until the Senate selects a nominee. He automatically becomes acting attorney general when Corbett resigns Jan. 18 to be sworn in as governor.

Based on Senate tradition, whoever Corbett nominates likely would agree not to run for the office when his or her service ends. Corbett made such an agreement when Republican Gov. Tom Ridge nominated him to become attorney general in 1995, to finish two years of a term for Ernie Preate, who went to federal prison for mail fraud.

Jerry Pappert, appointed attorney general when Mike Fisher became a federal judge in 2003, agreed not to run for the office.

There's an advantage to appointing someone on staff who knows pending cases and investigations, Madonna said. He doesn't think the ongoing legislative corruption investigation will present a conflict for Corbett in making the appointment.

"Any attorney general would still have the responsibility to investigate allegations of misconduct in any branch of government," Madonna said.

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