By Keegan Gibson, Managing Editor
Patrick Murphy, the former Bucks County Congressman running for Attorney General, is playing defense in the final days before the Dems’ state committee endorsement meeting. His legal credentials have come under fire from his primary opponents as well as Republicans.
The AP reported Wednesday afternoon that Murphy had not taken the Pa. Bar exam; he instead took the test in Minnesota. He was admitted to the Pa. Bar in 2004 based on those results and his experience.
While that information was published today for the first time during the AG’s race, it has been swirling for several days in Democratic circles. Several Democratic state committee members told PoliticsPA that the surrogates for Dan McCaffery, another Democratic candidate for AG, informed them of that fact over the past week.
“[The McCaffery supporter] told me Pat wasn’t licensed to practice law in Pa,” said one state committeewoman who is supporting Kathleen Kane. She said that the issue was raised prominently during a recent meeting of the southwest regional caucus, when former Pa. Commonwealth Court candidate and committeewoman Barbara Ernsberger vigorously challenged Murphy on his credentials. Ernsberger was wearing a McCaffery sticker at the time, she said.
A source close to Jim Burn said the Pa. Democratic Chairman himself had reached out to committee members in recent days to clarify the resume issue and come to Murphy’s defense.
Murphy explained to the AP that he took the Minnesota bar on the advice of his fellow officers. A campaign spokesperson said that Murphy chose Minnesota because of its faster turnaround in test results. He sought an assignment to the 82nd Airborne Division at Ft. Bragg, and needed his bar results quickly because spots there were on a first-come, first-serve basis.
Subsequently, Murphy tried cases at Bragg, in New York, and in Bosnia and Baghdad during his tours overseas. In 2004, he was admitted to the Pa. Bar by McCaffery’s brother, Seamus, based on his MN bar and his five years of work as an Army lawyer.
Critics say the underlying charge, that Murphy lacks experience, still sticks. Though he has done so in several jurisdictions, he has not prosecuted a criminal case in Pennsylvania.
“Patrick Murphy is trying to create history twice in the this election, being the first Democrat elected as Attorney General and being the first elected Attorney General to never pass the PA Bar. This is a fatal flaw for Patrick Murphy. Patrick should do what every Attorney General has done in the past, sit down and take the PA bar,” said Josh Morrow, McCaffery’s campaign manager.
McCaffery served as assistant Philadelphia District Attorney for several years, and ran for the office himself in 2009.
The third candidate in the race is Kathleen Kane, a former Lackawanna County assistant District Attorney. She has largely steered clear of political bickering thus far.
Kane campaign spokesman Daniel McElhatton declined to comment on Murphy’s credentials, emphasizing Kane’s record instead.
“Kathleen has run on her record of experience prosecuting over 3,000 cases and losing 4. That’s what her campaign has been about from the beginning, and we’ll continue to talk about that over the coming months.”
Committee members from around the state will gather in State College on Saturday to vote, but a candidate must achieve a daunting two-thirds threshold in order to earn the honors. According to multiple sources, including several familiar with state committee and at least one close to each of the campaigns, none of the three Democrats is likely to go home with the endorsement this weekend.
But it’s not just Democrats who are watching this race. The Pa. Republican Party also jumped on the news.
“The fact that Patrick Murphy has never taken the Pennsylvania bar exam and has never tried a case in Pennsylvania’s courts shows he has little respect for the Pennsylvania Constitution and should send a message to voters that he is not prepared to be Commonwealth’s chief law enforcement officer,” said PAGOP spokeswoman Valerie Caras in a statement.
Privately, Republicans operatives often cite Murphy as the general election candidate they believe to be most formidable, due to his high-profile military service and fundraising prowess. Several GOP operatives, candidates and committee members PoliticsPA spoke to at Saturday’s meeting of the central Pa. regional caucus concurred.
Update: Murphy’s campaign rolled out several quotes, including some from his fellow military officers. But the one that stood out most was from Seth Williams, the man who defeated McCaffery in a contentious primary for Philly Da in 2009. Said Williams:
“As a fellow JAG officer, I can tell you this is a ridiculous attack from a desperate opponent. Patrick is an experienced Army prosecutor, a licensed member of the Pennsylvania bar in good standing, and a real champion for the things we believe. Thousands of lawyers who practice in Pennsylvania every day took the test somewhere else. They’re licensed here because they have relevant legal experience. Patrick got that experience serving our country, prosecuting terrorists while getting mortared in Iraq. He is more than qualified to serve as Pennsylvania’s next Attorney General and any implication otherwise is disgraceful.”