September 21, 2015
Pennsylvania’s highest court on Monday ordered the temporary suspension of state Attorney General Kathleen Kane’s law license, a step that could trigger efforts to remove her from office as she fights criminal charges.
The unanimous order by the state Supreme Court’s five justices also could prompt a legal challenge from the first-term Democrat. In the meantime, it leaves the state’s top law enforcement official in charge of a 750-employee office and a $93 million budget but without the ability to act as a lawyer.
The state constitution requires the attorney general to be a licensed lawyer, but the court said in the order that its action should not be construed as removing her from office, raising questions about her ability to do the full range of duties associated with the office.
In a statement, Kane said she was disappointed in the court’s action, but grateful that it recognized her rights as an elected official.
Then, Kane called attention to a pornographic email scandal uncovered by her office that involved numerous current and former officials there and claimed the job last year of a state Supreme Court justice.
Kane said she would continue the work of her office, including rooting out “the culture of misogyny and racially/religiously offensive behavior that has permeated law enforcement and members of the judiciary in this Commonwealth for years.”
The office’s spokesman said Kane will continue performing all duties not prohibited by the court’s order, including setting priorities and making administrative decisions.
The first deputy attorney general, Bruce Beemer, a career prosecutor, will likely assume duties she can no longer perform, the spokesman said.
The order comes barely a month after Montgomery County authorities arrested Kane on charges she leaked secret investigative information to a newspaper reporter and then lied about it under oath. She was charged with perjury, obstruction and other counts.
Kane has maintained she did nothing wrong. Gov. Tom Wolf, a fellow Democrat, called on Kane to resign after she was charged Aug. 6.
Kane, whose term is up in 2017, will not resign, her spokesman said Monday.
Kane, the first woman to hold the position of Pennsylvania’s top prosecutor, has dismissed the probe against her as an unfair backlash over her challenge to what she calls the old-boys’ network in state government.
In a statement, her private lawyers said they were disappointed in the court’s decision and predicted that she would be exonerated once her side of the story is told.
They also said she has never been permitted to present evidence or confront a witness against her, and “most importantly, no fact finder has ever found that she did anything wrong,” said her lawyers, James Mundy and James Powell.
Her lawyers have argued that suspending her license while she is contesting the allegations would circumvent explicit constitutional provisions for removing her from office and violate her right to due process of law.
In the Senate, the potential for the court’s action has prompted Senate lawyers to research a never-used constitutional provision that allows a two-thirds vote of senators to remove certain elected officials.
In its Aug. 25 petition to the high court justices, the agency that investigates misconduct by Pennsylvania lawyers argued that Kane and one of her former defense attorneys admitted that she had authorized the release of information related to a 2009 grand jury investigation.
That allegation is also central to the criminal case against her.
However, Kane’s current lawyers say she did not disclose grand jury material or information kept secret under state criminal records laws. Instead, they have argued, she only authorized the release of information “relating to a pattern of unjustifiable selective prosecution or nonprosecution” under her predecessors.
Previous statements by her attorneys that she authorized the transcript’s release were incorrect, her lawyers now contend.