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District Attorney-Elect Recuses Himself From Prosecuting Penn State Hazing Case

Bernie Cantorna at a campaign event.
Emily Reddy
Centre County District Attorney-elect Bernie Cantorna announced Tuesday that he will recuse himself from the Penn State hazing death case.

Centre County District Attorney-elect Bernie Cantorna announced Tuesday that he will recuse himself from the Penn State hazing death case and has asked Pennsylvania Attorney General Josh Shapiro to take over.

In a statement, Cantorna cited conflicts of interest.

“Because I previously served as counsel to some of those involved in these cases, I sought the advice of the State Bar Ethics Committee about how to handle these matters going forward,” Cantorna said of his decision. “I have done that so these cases can move forward in an efficient, timely and above board manner.”

Cantorna did not specify what conflicts of interest he has in the hazing case. But Robert Davis Jr., an adjunct professor at Widener University Commonwealth Law school and an expert on attorney ethics, said Cantorna cannot and should not explain that.

“A lawyer in private practice or who has been in private practice has to protect confidential information,” Davis said. “They cannot reveal it, and, in some circumstances – a more difficult situation – they can’t use it. The duty is forever.”

Davis said recusal is a necessary measure.

“If a district attorney or district attorney elect believes there’s some danger of violating the rules of professional conduct, concerning confidential information and loyalty, then it is incumbent on that attorney to recuse from that particular case.”

Outgoing DA Stacy Parks Miller, who lost her re-election bid in May, issued a statement, saying she is disappointed in Cantorna’s recusal.

“He did not publicly represent any of these Defendants to date,” Parks Miller wrote. “If he merely represented one of the current charged Defendants on a prior matter previously, this does NOT require or provide grounds for recusal.”

Earlier this month, the DA’s office said the FBI recovered deleted footage from the basement of the Beta Theta Pi house, where Timothy Piazza, a Penn State sophomore, died in February after a night of hazing and excessive drinking.

In light of the new findings, Parks Miller filed new criminal charges on November 13 including involuntary manslaughter and aggravated assault.

In a statement, Joe Grace, a spokesperson for Attorney General Josh Shapiro, said, "the Office of Attorney General will review Mr. Cantorna’s claim of conflicts and will make a determination of his request after a careful analysis of the facts."

Min Xian reported at WPSU from 2016-2022.
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