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Murphy’s Credentials Under Fire

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.”

25 Responses

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  2. You can tell his folks are lying about why he took the Minny bar because of their statement. Since when does the Army do anything on a first come first serve basis? Try needs of the Army. Not to mention he would have had to go to Army JAG school first after passing Minny bar, thus delaying his arrival at Bragg by several months anyway.

  3. For years I have listened to Patrick at his meetings and community events, and followed him over his short career as our Congressman. Sadly, he is an Obama and Peloisi hack. A strong progressive and leans towards that side on all factors. WE have seen what that has brought us over the past 4 years. Doom!!! Yes, he is the poster child for the dem party, and has all union backing and money. I respect him for his military service, but his time in office was not the best, and he fell in line behind peloisi. That should tell you something right there. We need an AG that will not have to answer to the unions and the party to make a decision for the people of PA. Do you homework people and lets start making the right decisions, not just what the parties decide for you. Are we all sheeple….

  4. “Subsequently, Murphy tried cases at Bragg, in New York, and in Bosnia and Baghdad during his tours overseas.”

    Do we know what type of cases Murphy tried? Were they criminal cases? If criminal, were they cases against terrorists or against U.S. servicemen who committed crimes on bases or during their service? How many cases has he tried?

    I think these are important questions to see how qualified he would be to be the AG.

    Additionally, it would prove invaluable if he was aware of PA criminal laws, such as our gun laws, the wiretap act, and consumer fraud related laws/agencies. Experienced prosecutors know that there could be improvements to these laws, but I have a feeling that he is not too familiar with them.

  5. I am not going to blame a guy for standing by his convictions, not pandering to conservatives in his district. In an election where PA lost FOUR incumbent Democrats, the fact that Murphy lost by seven points in a Republican district is actually an indication of his electability. He won two general elections in a republican district and is working his tail off out on the trail.

    Saw that he is next door in Allegheny today. Tried to make it to the press conference, but alas, gotta go to work.

  6. Hey WashPA

    Murphy got his $ss handed to him in 2010 in his own county, which makes the argument he is most viable statewide a non starter. You’ll see McCaffery do well in southwest including Washington county.

  7. When I appointed my brother Robert Kennedy to be the United States Attorney General, he had never tried a case in court period. But I understood that the Attorney General didn’t need to be the most experienced litigator, he needed to be a courageous leader, a sharp mind and have a passion for service.

    I haven’t been involved in politics for a while, but I do read PoliticsPA whenever I can get some WiFi. From what I have seen from Mr. Murphy, I can tell that he has these attributes in spades.

    Patrick did not choose to serve in the United States Army because it was easy, he chose to do it because it was hard – and because our country needed men like him to step up to challenge. He took the Minnesota bar so he could get a spot in an elite unit; and we should be thanking him for that, not attacking him.

    I wish all of the Democratic candidates good luck, and I will be following this race very closely in the coming months.


  8. I think the other Democrats here should take note that “Blair”, clearly a proud teapartier is hating on Murphy… it is because he knows that he can actually beat a Republican. Hell, McCaffery couldn’t even win a primary in Philadelphia with all the political and labor support a guy could ask for!

  9. Well, to start, the Attorney General is NOT the state’s top prosecutor. The Attorney General is the state’s top legal officer. There is a lot more than prosecution on the table here. Consumer protection is one of the most important parts of the AG’s office. Murphy helped created the Consumer Financial Protection Bureau – which is a good sign to me.

    And to “the choice is clear” – McCaffery may have prosecuted DUI’s in Philadelphia, but Murphy prosecuted terrorists in Baghdad. I’m not saying that one is better than the other, I am just saying they both of prosecutorial experience.

    I want to see what the candidates have to say about the real meat and potatoes of the AG’s responsibilities: Marcellus Shale, Medicare Fraud etc.

  10. Pat Murphy is a good guy and a decorated combat veteran. He deserves our respect and admiration for his service to our country.

    That being said, he has always had a problem telling the truth. He took the Minnesota Bar Exam because it was the “easiest” exam in the country. Military lawyers can sit for the bar exam in any state. He chose Minnesota because it historically has pass rates in the the 85% range. In contrast, in the late nineties-early 2000’s PA pass rate was closer to 65%. His statement that he took it there to get the results earlier is a total falsehood.

    I completely agree that his decision not to sit for the state bar is a fatal flaw to his campaign.

  11. Murphy has never tried a case, civil or criminal, in any PA court…or any other state’s courts. Kane has extensive criminal experience. McCaffery has extensive criminal experience and experience doing the kind of civil cases that the AGs office is responsible for litigating.

    The Republicans are running Freed, an experienced prosecutor.

    If the Ds run Murphy, he’s toast. They will talk about his zero experience, then talk about his congressional voting record. End of story.

    Murphy should get out of this race before he embarrasses himself and the party.

  12. It’s no easy task getting admitted to the PA Bar. Either Murphy is or is not admitted. Anyone can find out by doing a search at the PA Disciplinary Board website. One thing which might be worth checking, though, is the Minnesota pass rate for the Bar. Some states are notoriously hard, others notoriously easy.

    I know a few lawyers who were JAG, and they are all excellent PA lawyers.

  13. Based on the facts reported here it is very likely that any candidate or party organization who pounces on Patrick Murphy for this is running the risk of alienating veterans and service men and women everywhere. It seems as if this line of criticism, if played up the wrong way, could have disastrous consequences for whoever is using it against Murphy.

  14. I do believe all three are fine individuals. That said, Murphys resume is scant compared to McCaffery and Kane. Anyone who does not think it’s an issue the GOP will use…. Isn’t being sensible. I don’t buy into how he is electable in the whole state either. I’ll be glad to support whomever emerges.

  15. David Diano, do you have an actual job or do you just sit at home in your mother’s basement all day eating bon bons and making bitter comments on every political site you can find?
    Poor guy couldn’t even get into law school an is taking it out on others who do.

    P.S. Do you know where our esteemed Governor went to law school? Exactly….

  16. Jackson Branch is partially right, both Dan and Justice Seamus are vets, as is Patrick Murphy. The difference here is not who served their country since both Dan and Pat did and did so honorably.

    Obviously the PA bar recognizes both Dan and Pat as members. It is honorable that Pat served our country in the military and as our congressman. It is honorable that Dan served our country as a member of the armed forces too.

    The question is who has the qualifications to be the state’s top prosecutor. One person who served our country in the military AND as a prosecutor in Pennsylvania’s largest city and prosecuted hundreds if not thousands of cases or someone who graced the halls of Congress and served as a member of the 82nd Airborne but has never stepped foot in a Pennsylvania courtroom.

    I think prosecutorial experience is the deciding factor in this one folks. That prosecutor is Dan McCaffery. Why doesn’t Pat finish the job he started in Congress and run against Fitzpatrick again, he has experience in Congress just simply not as a prosecutor. Please realize we need someone who will do the job as Attorney General as a prosecutor not someone that does the job as Attorney General in hopes of getting a promotion to Governor or Senator.

  17. Amen Jake!

    Seriously, McCaffery and his brother are both vets – you would expect them to have a little more respect for a guy who was just trying to get his results back so he could get a spot in the 82nd Airborne.

    Murphy is a patriot and was a damn good Congressman. I think he will make a good AG, and like the GOP says, he is our best shot of winning.

  18. I think the big story here is that he has never tried a case in a PA court. If he is the Dem nominee, the Repubs will eat him up in the general election.

  19. The issue is up to the PA Bar. They admitted him, so he can practice in PA.

    The PA Bar admits tons of idiot lawyers that went to a 4th-tier school like Widener. The “bar” is not set very high in PA.

  20. Who cares if he didn’t take the PA bar exam? The tests are all pretty much the same and he had completely honorable reasons for taking the Minnesota test.

    The fact that McCaffery (whose own brother swore Murphy into the bar) is coming at another Democrat like that is just dirty. We need to stick together guys. We have three solid candidates, but need to stop the infighting or else the GOP will take the seat again.

  21. Right, Patrick should have at least tried to take the PA Bar Exam when he was serving our country in Bosnia. Or maybe Patrick should have tried to take the exam while he was serving our country in Baghdad.
    Congressman Murphy was admitted to the PA bar in 2004, and McCaffery should be ashamed of himself for stooping so low as to attack a Veteran for being busy protecting our country.

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