As H. Geoffrey Moulton Jr. begins what new state Attorney General Kathleen Kane promised will be a complete examination of her predecessors’ handling of the Jerry Sandusky sex-abuse case, sources in the white-collar bar said the environment in which the original investigators worked will be just as important as the actual decisions they made.

Moulton, a former federal prosecutor and current professor at Widener University School of Law in Delaware, has been tasked with navigating what some have called a political minefield in his probe of the office, which was led by Governor Tom Corbett when it first started investigating Sandusky in 2008.

The task is a tall order. Kane has questioned whether the pace of investigation was influenced by Corbett’s decision to run for governor. Supporters of Corbett have accused Kane of playing politics herself with the probe. Meanwhile, career prosecutors whose efforts on the Sandusky case led to convictions on 45 of 48 counts of child sexual abuse will be questioned about their work. And, all the while, Moulton will need to keep a laser-sharp focus on the facts while employing a keen understanding of the context in which an investigation — namely, one of the biggest in the country — takes form.

Everyone interviewed by the Law Weekly, including a former attorney general, Moulton’s former colleagues and a defense attorney who has faced Moulton in court, said Moulton was the right man for the job.
"He’ll look under every rock," said Richard L. Scheff, the chairman of Montgomery McCracken Walker & Rhoads. "From a selection like Geoff, the answer is what it will be."

What Scheff meant, he explained, was that Moulton is not capable of being influenced by anything other than what is under those rocks — which could very well be, as Scheff put it, a dozen more rocks to look under.

Gerald J. Pappert, a partner at Cozen O’Connor in Philadelphia, agreed that Moulton was a "very good pick" for the job. But Pappert, a former attorney general of Pennsylvania, said Kane’s chief complaint — the length of the investigation — doesn’t in and of itself signal impropriety.

With that in mind, Pappert said, if Moulton does come across a timeframe in which the investigation appeared to have slowed, he should examine all the competing factors and contextual background before drawing any conclusions.

"When looking at those decisions, one ought to take into account the context those decisions were made in," Pappert said. "It’s very easy to look back on something that’s long completed and disagree with decisions that were made along the timeline."

Scheff agreed.

"It’s easy to look at something and say ‘how could somebody not have acted by now?’" Scheff said. "These are very difficult judgment calls to make. They really are."

Moulton, by and large, has either been a prosecutor, a professor or an investigator his entire career.

After clerking for U.S. Supreme Court Justice William H. Rehnquist, Moulton started practicing as a special counsel to the assistant attorney general in Washington. He then spent four years as an assistant U.S. attorney for the Eastern District of Pennsylvania.

In 1993, following the siege of the Branch Davidians religious sect’s compound near Waco, Texas, Moulton served as project director for an administrative review team of the U.S. Treasury. Moulton’s report, though critical, was widely praised.

"Geoff basically led the Treasury investigation of Waco," Scheff said.

Though Moulton joined Widener as a professor in 1993, he has left more than once to do work for the government, according to his biography from the school. For four years in the early 2000s, Moulton went back to the Eastern District to serve as first assistant. In 2009, he left the university again to serve as chief counsel to U.S. Senator Ted Kaufman, D-Del. He then worked as chief of staff and deputy special inspector general for the Office of the Special Inspector General for the Troubled Asset Relief Program.

A ‘Unique’ Investigation

While this is not the first time an attorney general in Pennsylvania has reviewed the work of a predecessor, the stakes for the Sandusky review seemed higher to those interviewed.

Corbett, himself, launched a review of former Attorney General Ernest D. Preate Jr. related to Preate’s taxpayer-funded legal bills while he was under federal investigation regarding campaign contributions.

Attorneys interviewed said Kane’s investigation was appropriate and within her purview as the state’s top law enforcement officer.

"It’s not the first time an incoming AG has reviewed the work of an outgoing AG," said Marc Raspanti, of Pietragallo, Gordon, Alfano, Bosick & Raspanti. "It’s not an inappropriate inquiry."

While Kane has the right to review the litigation, Raspanti and others interviewed said the Sandusky probe, with the successful prosecution underlying Kane’s review, reflected different investigatory terrain.

"It’s a fascinating slice into an office that has had its ups and downs over the years," Raspanti said. "It’s a giant office … and it’s been completely in control by one party since its inception."

"The question becomes: Do any politics or do any of the kinds of [political] suspicions bleed into the prosecutorial decision-making?" Raspanti said.

Pappert said it is "absolutely crucial" that Moulton start his review with no pre-ordained conclusions about certain individuals. Exhibit A, according to Pappert, is the "resoundingly successful prosecution."

Everything else will come into place as people are interviewed and documents are reviewed.

"There’s a lot about this case that makes it very unique and very delicate," Pappert said. "You have a successful prosecution and a number of people in the office who worked very hard to obtain a great result in the case. Some remain. Some are gone.

"I’m sure some of the people in the chain of command are concerned that, somehow, people might interpret this investigation as a questioning of their work or their professional integrity."

Moulton will likely assemble a small team to help him with the investigation, those interviewed for this article said. Kane has set no timeframe for the work other than saying that it is to start "effective immediately." Moulton will report to her directly, Kane said in a press release last week, and his findings will be made public when his work is complete.

Moulton did not return a call requesting comment for this article.

Ben Present can be contacted at 215-557-2315 or bpresent@alm.com. Follow him on Twitter @BPresentTLI.