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Politics & Government

Time To Return To The Basics For Attorney General Candidate Fawcett

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In the late 1980s, Pittsburgh-based attorney Dave Fawcett represented a land developer that believed coal company Massy Energy conspired to bankrupt the smaller company. The fight took more than 15 years and included a trip to the U.S Supreme Court before it was finally finished. 

As one of four Democrats seeking candidacy for office, Fawcett said it's that kind of experience that has prepared him for the office of Pennsylvania Attorney General.

“I’m an experienced attorney that actually tries cases and has practiced law for 30 years and has taken on big fights against big companies for people who need a good lawyer,” Fawcett said.

Fawcett has based much of his campaign on the belief that the responsibility of the Attorney General’s office to protect the commonwealth’s residents from fraud and abuse has been ignored. He blamed much of that on distractions associated with the legal troubles of current Attorney General Kathleen Kane.

“What we have seen over the past term is neglect of those duties and a failure to really put the spotlight," he said. "To put resources toward them and where only the AG can do it, in my opinion, in the right way.”

Kane faces criminal charges for allegedly leaking secret grand jury material to a newspaper and then lying about it. Her law licenses has been suspended and the state Senate has begun proceedings that could remove the Democrat from office.

Fawcett has called for more resources to be allocated to the AG’s office, especially regarding investigators and lawyers tasked with fraud and abuse. Just electing another politician will not help, he said. Fawcett put himself forward as the best alternative in the field to “lead the office back to where it should be.”

The Attorney General’s office in Pennsylvania became an elected position in 1980. Prior to that, it was an appointed position. Since then, many of the attorneys general have used the position as a means to reach higher governmental positions. 

“It has been a stepping stone for higher office,” said Franklin and Marshall University Center for Politics and Public Affairs Director G. Terry Madonna. “Not very successfully, I might point out. With one exception.”

That exception is Tom Corbett, who after two stints in office became Pennsylvania's 46th governor. Ernie Preate and Mike Fisher both ran unsuccessful gubernatorial campaigns. Fisher eventually became a federal judge and Preate went to jail on mail fraud charges.

When Kane took office, it was seen as just one more step on her swift political rise that many thought would include either a run for the governor’s mansion or for the U.S. Senate.

Fawcett said it's important to get someone in office who is not overly political, but agreed he is not without his own political ties.

He once served as the at-large member of the Allegheny County Council as a Republican. Near the end of his second term, he switched parties, a move he said was in part motivated by the way the Republican party was going nationally but also because, in Allegheny County, it is “very difficult being in the minority party.”

As Attorney General, Fawcett said he would focus on the growing heroin and prescription drug abuse problem by using the same powers the office has to go after high-level crimes. 

“Just like it is in the fight against cyber crime and the fight of human trafficking and drug trafficking, by being vigilant, pursuing matters where DAs (district attorneys) can’t, but also calling attention to these issues and these problems,” Fawcett said.

The Democrat said he would use the growing number of drug courts in the state to help continue dealing with the state's drug problems, noting that the use of mandatory drug sentences has been a failure.

Fawcett will face fellow Democrats Northampton County District Attorney John Morganelli, Allegheny County District Attorney Stephen Zappala and private attorney Jack Stollsteimer. Montgomery County Commissioner Josh Shapiro is expected to launch a campaign in the coming weeks. State Sen. John Rafferty remains the lone Republican contender.

Candidates have until Feb. 16 to file petitions to be on the April ballot.