Friday, February 18, 2005

Governor's Lawyer Sues to Prevent Penn State from Screwing Dickinson

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Friday, February 18, 2005

Dickinson suit puts counsel to Rendell in unusual spot

Of The Patriot-News

It's not unusual for Gov. Ed Rendell's top legal adviser to handle a lawsuit. But legal experts say it is unusual for a governor's lawyer to file a suit to block one of his own deals.

Leslie Anne Miller, general counsel to Rendell and a member of the board of The Dickinson School of Law, has filed a suit to derail a deal the governor is negotiating with Penn State University and the law school.

The suit seeks to stop Penn State from building a $60 million campus for the law school in State College.

Rendell has promised $25 million for renovations in Carlisle if Penn State also maintains the existing Dickinson law school campus there.

Since filing the suit, Miller has offered to resign. She said she has heard nothing from the governor and the issue hasn't come up in her conversations with him.

"We've never had a governor be that flexible before to allow that kind of independence from a position that is supposed to speak with the governor's voice and carry out his will, and only his will," said Paul B. Beers, who has published histories of Pennsylvania and its governors. "You can't have a lone wolf in that position.

"This is the kind of thing, historically, that usually leads to an accepted resignation in a few months, once it dies down a little bit."

Senate Republican general counsel Stephen C. MacNett has worked with the governor's attorneys for two decades.

While agreeing with Miller's action, he added, "This is very unusual to have a general counsel not act in the sole character of the governor's lawyer."

Legally, Miller did nothing wrong, said Gregory Harvey, former chair of the City Board of Ethics in Philadelphia.

Harvey said that among major corporate general counsels, balancing acts like Miller's are "unusual but not unprecedented."

It's up to Rendell, Harvey said, to decide if Miller is handling her responsibilities appropriately.

Kate Philips, Rendell's spokeswoman, said the governor was trying to resolve the situation.

She said he "has obviously not accepted" Miller's resignation, and then declined comment.

Miller and her father, G. Thomas Miller, and a third member of The Dickinson School of Law Board of Governors filed the suit.

Initially, a majority of the board voted with them.

But in January, the Dickinson board reversed its decision.

That reversal, Miller and administration sources confirmed, came after board members -- including state Supreme Court Justice J. Michael Eakin, former Attorney General LeRoy Zimmerman and Rendell ally and fund-raiser Lewis Katz of New Jersey -- talked privately with Rendell and also separately with Penn State officials.

The governor's role was vital because Rendell confirmed the state's $25 million could be spent only on the Carlisle site.

Miller said she acted as Rendell's "messenger" to the board only regarding the subject of potential state funding.

"I never advised the governor on the Penn State/Dickinson situation," she said.

"The governor has kept his own counsel on this issue and never sought my counsel."

In fact, Miller said, "if I had been 'advising the governor,' I would have been included in the meetings" between Rendell and members of the board, including Eakin, Zimmerman and Katz. "I was not."

Miller said she discussed her opposition to the two-campus plan with Rendell in January and said Rendell told her, "I was free to do whatever I chose on this issue, not that I need the governor's permission."

Rendell has said, "the board had no other choice but the Penn State plan, if Dickinson was to survive," and is trying to get Penn State to extend its 10-year guarantee to keep a campus in Carlisle.

Miller said, "I believe my lawsuit supports his position. ... It strengthens his hand."

Miller says she did not determine when the lawsuit would be filed, and sent Rendell a copy on Feb. 3.

"I believe that I am acting responsibly in my fiduciary capacity as a member of the board of governors of the Dickinson School of Law, and, simultaneously, respectfully as the governor's general counsel," Miller said. "But in the end, I have full confidence in my decision."

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