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A terminated Montgomery County prosecutor has put the county commissioners on notice that he is contemplating legal action over what he has termed “a politically motivated” firing by District Attorney Bruce L. Castor Jr.

Christian P. Marrone, a prosecutor in the county’s major crimes unit since November 2002, is claiming that Castor fired him in retaliation for supporting Castor’s opponent, Tom Corbett, in the state attorney general primary.

This is “purely political retribution,” Marrone said in an interview last week. “You don’t want to mix law enforcement with politics because then distinctions get blurred.”

Castor, who lost the Republican nomination to Corbett in the primary, confirmed that the firing occurred on April 29 — two days after the election — but declined to comment on the specifics.

But, generally speaking, Castor defended his right to hire and fire assistants on the basis of political considerations.

“With regard to his [Marrone's] contention that the firing was politically motivated, speaking in general terms and not specifically, the district attorney under 3rd Circuit case law may fire assistant district attorneys who are politically opposed to them,” Castor said, citing Mummau v. Ranck, a 1982 decision by the 3rd U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals.

In that case, the 3rd Circuit held that an assistant district attorney may be fired for political reasons without offending the First Amendment, in light of the fact that ADAs are granted broad policymaking power that they may have to implement on behalf of an elected DA.

“The court ruled that assistant DAs are per se policymaking employees,” Castor said. “Whether or not they have the authority to make policy decisions is irrelevant because the assistant DA acts with the power of the DA. Therefore, the DA must be able to trust them explicitly and implicitly.”

The head of a district attorney’s office or of the state Attorney General’s Office should have the right to hire and fire on the basis of political considerations. For example, Castor said that when Mike Fisher took office as Pennsylvania attorney general in 1997, he required every deputy to resign. He then accepted certain resignations and declined others.

“And that’s how it should be,” Castor said.

Castor said a DA cannot take the risk that an assistant is not on the same page as him or her. It is the same rationale employed by a governor or a president in making decisions to hire or fire policy advisers, he said.

“If Marrone decides he is going to sue the county, he is going to waste taxpayers’ money and his own time because he has no chance of prevailing,” Castor said.

Marrone said civil rights attorneys he consulted had a different opinion.

He also assailed Castor’s reasoning for the firing, asking if “that was his belief from the beginning, then why didn’t he fire me back in January when I said I wasn’t supporting him.”

Marrone said the firing had nothing to do with his performance as a prosecutor. Nor did he take steps to jeopardize Castor’s standing in his present office, Marrone said.

Rather, he said, it’s an example of Castor “putting his political agenda ahead of executing justice in that office.”

Marrone said that had he thrown his support behind an opponent to Castor in a district attorney race, that would be a different situation. But, he maintained, there is no expectation that an ADA must support his boss when he is running for a different political office.

“I supported Bruce Castor for district attorney. … We’ve raised money for him; I’ve done everything I could for him,” said Marrone, a Republican.

Marrone said he decided to support Corbett in part because of Castor’s decision to criticize the party endorsement process. Marrone said that as a Republican, he believed he could not support Castor after Castor decided to take on the state party.

Marrone’s attorney, Sidney L. Gold of Sidney Gold & Associates in Philadelphia, has sent a letter to the Montgomery County commissioners, outlining his grievance and putting them on notice that he is considering legal action, although he has not yet filed suit. He said his next move would depend on the commissioners, who will vote on whether to approve Castor’s request to replace Marrone at a meeting this morning.

“I wrote the letter because I want the commissioners to stop Mr. Castor from replacing my client, who was a steadfast supporter of Mr. Castor for many years,” Gold said. “Mr. Castor was a guest at his wedding. My client just supported the endorsed Republican Party ticket. This is not a situation where he actively campaigned against Mr. Castor. He just supported someone else. And the [firing] was a violation of my client’s right to free speech.”

In 1996, Gold filed a wrongful termination suit on behalf of another Montgomery County assistant district attorney, William McElroy, who claimed that he was fired and slandered in retaliation for running against his boss, former DA Michael Marino, in the Republican primary. Marino and his lawyers argued that he had the right to fire an ADA if that person chose to challenge his boss in an election. The suit was eventually dropped, but Gold said the Marrone case stands on stronger footing because Marrone merely supported a candidate other than Castor and did not run against him.

Richard Winters, the Montgomery County solicitor, said that case law clearly states that an elected row officer such as a district attorney can hire or fire employees without the consent of the county commissioners, who would only approve any change of salary or the right to replace an employee.

“So if [Gold's] planning on filing a suit, I say go ahead, because case law is pretty clear,” Winters said. “I’ve advised the commissioners not to be afraid of a lawsuit because it has no basis.”

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