Gov. Ed Rendell said yesterday that if his top lawyer won't drop a private lawsuit she filed to block construction of a law school at Penn State University, then he might "have to accept her resignation ... unhappily." Rendell is negotiating a deal with Penn State and The Dickinson School of Law in Carlisle. He is seeking a commitment from Penn State that it would operate the law school in Carlisle for many years and has promised state aid for improvements in Carlisle.
The governor's general counsel, Leslie Anne Miller, and two other people are suing to halt construction of the law school in State College. Miller is a member of The Dickinson School of Law Board of Governors.
Penn State merged with the law school in 2000. Last year, Penn State pushed the law school board to approve the construction of a State College campus. Some law school board members feared it would lead to the end of the law school in Carlisle.
The board, including midstate native Miller, voted to reject that plan last summer, but reversed itself early this year, despite Miller's opposition.
Miller, her father, G. Thomas Miller, and Thomas Monteverde -- all members of the Dickinson law school board -- filed the suit to halt the law school in State College.
Yesterday, when asked whether he would accept Miller's offer to resign if Rendell were concerned by the lawsuit, the governor said he would make the best deal he could with Penn State before releasing the state money for Carlisle improvements.
If the lawsuit continued past that point, Rendell said, despite Miller disqualifying herself from that litigation, "It may present some just inevitable conflicts, to the point where I would have to accept her resignation."
Miller declined to comment.
Rendell became involved because the state agreed to spend $25 million to renovate and expand the Carlisle campus.
Miller was unhappy with the board's changed position, then filed the suit, without notifying Rendell until the day the suit was filed.
The lawsuit seeks to halt Penn State from building a State College campus. It also seeks to compel Penn State to formalize a multiple-decade commitment to the Carlisle campus of the law school.
Rendell said he thought the board "had no choice" but to accept the two-campus proposal. But he vowed to lengthen Penn State's 10- year commitment to the Carlisle site.
While observers said it was unprecedented for Miller, the administration's top lawyer, to sue to stop a deal the governor was negotiating, she noted her long ties to Dickinson and the community. She also said the governor told her in mid-January to act as she chose on this issue.
Miller denied that her lawsuit did anything more than strengthening Rendell's negotiating position, "to help him get more," from Penn State.
But Miller turned down a chance last week to meet with the administration and Penn State President Graham Spanier to settle the dispute.
Rendell said he asked his deputy chief of staff, David Myers, to discuss a possible settlement with the Millers and Monteverde.
At a news conference yesterday, Rendell said Myers asked the litigants whether it would be acceptable to them if Penn State made a longer commitment to a Carlisle campus.
"They said, 'maybe,' but then they came up with another array of changes they wanted to be made."
Charles Rubendall, attorney for the Millers and Monteverde, said the lawsuit seeks to keep the dean and other major administrators in Carlisle.