Montgomery County's Political Whirlwind, Bruce Castor Jr., Pops Up Again…and Again…and Again

In this week's Montgomery County column, the main character is one-man political whirlwind, Bruce Castor Jr. The Montgomery County fixture popped up once again on a TV show about the Rafael Robb murder case.

When it comes time to leave public life, some politicians disappear gently into that dark night.

Others burn out fantastically, whether through indictment or embarrassment.

And then there are those politicians who linger, like the garlic taste from last night’s marinara, unable to depart from the public eye.

For this last category, every place has one: If Pennsylvania has Ed Rendell, then Montgomery County has Bruce Castor Jr.

The former district attorney and county commissioner from Lower Salford Township has popped up everywhere in the last year: the Cosby case, Attorney General Josh Shapiro’s last meeting as commissioner, the Kathleen Kane fiasco, and as a Centre County special prosecutor of all places.

The man has been prodigious in his ability to remain in the limelight -- all despite the fact he retired from public service last January.

This week, he reappeared again on a midday television series called "Crime Watch Daily." The syndicated show hosted by Chris Hansen of NBC's "To Catch a Predator" notoriety featured a long segment on the case of Rafael Robb, the murderer released from prison in January for beating his wife to death in their Upper Merion home in 2006.

Robb’s case captivated Montgomery County and southeastern Pennsylvania for its brutality and for Robb's high-profile position as an economist at the University of Pennsylvania. He was a nationally-renowned expert in game theory.

Castor often alluded to Robb’s intelligence throughout the investigation and trial, with a catchphrase that he again utilized in the Crime Watch report: “They are still amateur killers, and we’re professional catchers of killers.”

At the heart of the Robb case, however, remains the suffering that Ellen Gregory Robb’s family has endured since her death. Their pain centers on the fact that Rafael Robb pleaded guilty to voluntary manslaughter instead of facing first-degree murder at trial. The manslaughter plea came with a sentence of three-and-a-half to 20 years, whereas the murder charge would have meant life in prison.

Castor says in the crime show that he believed Robb killed his wife in a crime of passion and that the act was not premediated. He also says he didn’t think the judge would sentence Robb to only five to 10 years.

“I argued that the facts and circumstances warranted the maximum sentence of 20 years,” Castor says on the show. “The judge didn’t agree and imposed a 10-year term. I didn’t expect him to do that.”

Attorneys who subsequently sued Rafael Robb on behalf of his daughter, Olivia, won the now 22-year-old woman a massive $124 million judgment, though they admitted on the show that Rafael Robb is believed to have assets of about $3-4 million.

Still, the attorneys, renowned Philadelphia litigants Robert Mongeluzzi and Andrew Duffy, continue to argue that the murder was premeditated.

Despite their arguments, Robb is free after 10 years. His future is up in the air, with court filings suggesting he wants to relocate to Pittsburgh -- or perhaps stay in Montgomery County.

As for Castor, his future would seem to be more set in stone. He practices law with an Ardmore firm that now includes his name in its title, Rogers Castor, and he still works as a special prosecutor for the Centre County District Attorney's Office.

But the future can be a hard thing to predict. Several months after his Montgomery County "retirement" last January, Castor popped up rather spectacularly in Kane’s controversy-riddled Attorney General’s Office. And he then surprisingly slid into the top job for a few months when Kane resigned.

Reached by phone Thursday, the talkative lawyer said he is done with elected office. But...

"There's always the chance somebody, sometime will ask if I can serve on a commission here or an appointment there. I’ll do it if i think it’s helpful," he said. "But those are temporary gigs, designed to produce one product or one result. I don’t want to get stuck in any elected office."

Unprompted, he even suggested an intriguing short-term gig -- which doesn't actually exist...yet.

"For example, if the (state) Supreme Court said go down to the Philadelphia DA’s office and clean it up pending the election" later this year, he said.

So it is for some longtime politicians like Castor: Burning out or fading away aren’t the only options.

Sticking around, always looming just off center stage, is an ambition unto itself, whether or not the audience wants to hear any more lines from your character.

Brian X. McCrone’s columns will appear each Thursday in NBC10.com’s Montgomery County News section. In addition to the columns, McCrone and his colleagues at NBC10.com and NBC10 provide daily news and feature stories on Montco. Reach out to him at brian.mccrone@nbcuni.com or (610)668-5540. Follow him on Twitter and Facebook.

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