Governor-elect Wolf Announces Choices For General Counsel And State

January 08, 2022 by Wolf Transition Press

York, PA - Governor-elect Tom Wolf today announced that Denise Smyler will lead his Office of General Counsel. Wolf also announced his selection of Pedro Cortés, the former and longest serving secretary of state in Pennsylvania history, to head the Department of State.

"I am pleased that Denise and Pedro will be joining my administration," said Governor-elect Tom Wolf. "Denise has a long record of excellence and experience working with multiple levels of government, and Pedro vastly improved operations at the Department of State during his previous tenure. Pedro's experience will help me enhance the democratic process in our commonwealth and ensure Pennsylvanians can better exercise their right to vote and expediently file business documents. Each of these individuals will be an asset to my administration."

Denise Smyler has significant legal experience in government, serving as an assistant district attorney in the Philadelphia District Attorney’s Office from 1987 to 1993. She was also the first woman to serve as counsel to the Philadelphia Police Department. Smyler founded and successfully operated a multi-attorney law firm concentrating in municipal finance matters and civil defense litigation for 16 years.

Pedro Cortés is the longest serving secretary of state in Pennsylvania history. During his prior seven-year tenure, the department improved elections, reduced the processing time of business filings from 36 business days to one day, spearheaded the nation’s first statewide electronic notarization program, and reduced the time it took to review professional and occupation licensure complaints. He also has a proven record enfranchising voters. Cortés was the first Pennsylvanian to become president of the National Association of Secretaries of State in the association’s 104 year history.


Denise Smyler is the founding attorney and owner of the Smyler Firm, which united with Wadud Ahmad and Joseph Zaffarese to form Ahmad, Zaffarese & Smyler, LLC in September 2013. In 2011, Mayor Michael Nutter appointed Denise to the Philadelphia Redevelopment Authority Board. Mayor Nutter also picked Smyler to serve on the nominating panel for the Board of Property Assessment Appeals. Previously, Denise worked as an assistant district attorney and as legal counsel to the Philadelphia Prison Commissioner before being appointed chief legal counsel to the Philadelphia Police Commissioner. While serving as counsel to the Prison System and Police Department, Denise also advised and represented the city in State and Federal Court proceedings relative to labor matters and worked on drafting and negotiating contracts on behalf of city agencies. Denise has a degree from New York University and earned her J.D. from Georgetown University.

Pedro Cortés, a native of Puerto Rico, began his career in 1993 at the Pennsylvania Department of Public Welfare. From 2003 to 2010, Pedro served as secretary of the Commonwealth under Governor Edward G. Rendell, making him the first confirmed Latino cabinet member and longest serving secretary of state in Pennsylvania history. Prior to being appointed secretary of the Commonwealth, Pedro served as executive director of the Governor’s Advisory Commission on Latino Affairs for three years beginning in March 2000. Currently, Pedro is a partner with the law firm of Haggerty, Goldberg, Schleifer and Kupersmith. He holds a J.D. from Penn State Dickinson School of Law, M.P.A. from Penn State Harrisburg and B.S. in Hotel, Restaurant and Travel Administration from the University of Massachusetts. Pedro currently resides in Harrisburg with his wife, Lissette Lizardi-Cortés, and their daughter, Gabriela.

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