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Allegheny County district attorney prosecutors move on to state office

ptrditka02052113
Andrew Russell | Tribune-Review
Laura Ditka, shown in a 2013 photo in the Allegheny County Courthouse, left the Disrtict Attorney's Office to join the state Attorney General's Office in May 2013.
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James Knox | Trib Total Media
Allegheny County District Attorney Stephen A. Zappala Jr., shown during an October news conference on domestic violence, says his prosecutors often are recruited for state or private jobs because of their talent.
ptrbeemer060414
Submitted
Brad Beemer of Bradford Woods, Attorney General Kathleen Kane's top deputy, on Thursday sent a memo to the agency's lawyers rejecting Kane's justification for publicly releasing private emails, such as those of a former grand jury judge she requested be removed from his position. The memo was the first sign a revolt might be under way among senior staffers.
ptrditka02052113
Andrew Russell | Tribune-Review
Laura Ditka, shown in a 2013 photo in the Allegheny County Courthouse, left the Disrtict Attorney's Office to join the state Attorney General's Office in May 2013.
PTRLOZAPPALA5101114
James Knox | Trib Total Media
Allegheny County District Attorney Stephen A. Zappala Jr., shown during an October news conference on domestic violence, says his prosecutors often are recruited for state or private jobs because of their talent.
ptrbeemer060414
Submitted
Brad Beemer of Bradford Woods, Attorney General Kathleen Kane's top deputy, on Thursday sent a memo to the agency's lawyers rejecting Kane's justification for publicly releasing private emails, such as those of a former grand jury judge she requested be removed from his position. The memo was the first sign a revolt might be under way among senior staffers.

Bruce Beemer has surrounded himself with familiar faces at the Pennsylvania Attorney General’s Office.

Since leaving the Allegheny County District Attorney’s Office in June 2010, Beemer, 45, of Bradford Woods helped recruit at least a half-dozen prosecutors to the state office, including two of District Attorney Stephen A. Zappala Jr.’s top deputies.

“It’s sort of natural to gravitate toward those people who you’ve worked with for years,” said Beemer, who Attorney General Kathleen Kane appointed in June to be her first deputy. “It’s sort of the natural transition for a lot of people who love the work but are interested in a change of scenery.”

Among those who left Zappala’s office to prosecute state crimes are former deputy district attorneys Laura Ditka, 51, of McCandless and Simquita Bridges, 49, of Sewickley and former assistant district attorneys Patrick Schulte, 39, of Plum, Courtney Butterfield, 32, of O’Hara and Edward Song, 40, of Mt. Lebanon. In the district attorney’s office, deputies outrank assistants.

Ditka, who last year won the conviction of Arthur Henderson, dubbed the “North Hills rapist,” left the district attorney’s office in May 2013. She is in charge of criminal prosecutions for the western third of the state.

Bridges, Kane’s most recent addition, began this month. Zappala assigned her to prosecute the high-profile death penalty case against Allen Wade for the February deaths of sisters Susan and Sarah Wolfe in their East Liberty home. Two assistant district attorneys will try the case next year.

Zappala said he anticipates most employees will get experience in his office and leave in four or five years. Although some go to the Attorney General’s Office, many more enter the private sector, he said.

“People are going to recruit my lawyers because they’re talented,” Zappala said.

Recent law school graduates and young lawyers fight for coveted openings in the county office, which has more than 100 active resumes on file, Zappala said.

Schulte said the slight bump in pay and ability to focus on fewer cases led him to join Kane’s office.

“To be able to sink your teeth into cases in a way you just didn’t have time to at the district attorney’s office is refreshing,” said Schulte, who in July 2013 successfully prosecuted Robert Lellock, the Pittsburgh Public Schools security guard sentenced to 32 to 64 years in prison for sexually assaulting five boys in the 1990s.

“I’ve been able to sort of recharge my batteries a little bit,” Schulte said.

Legal experts said moving from a county district attorney’s office to the attorney general’s office is a natural progression for seasoned prosecutors. Many state prosecutors come from Allegheny County, in part because the attorney general’s western office is a block from the courthouse. Similarly, the eastern office in suburban Philadelphia is filled with prosecutors from Philadelphia and surrounding counties.

Zappala should be flattered that so many former employees go on to work at the attorney general’s office, said Richard Long, executive director of the Pennsylvania District Attorneys Association.

“It says a lot about the quality of work of the people in that office,” said Long, a former deputy district attorney in Dauphin County.

The turnover hasn’t hurt prosecutions, Zappala said.

“We have access to a lot of talent, so we’re able to overcome things like that,” he said.

Adam Brandolph is a Trib Total Media staff writer. Reach him at 412-391-0927 or [email protected].

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