Pennsylvania prosecutors consider boss' suspension order

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Posted: Sep 22, 2015 5:44 PM
Pennsylvania prosecutors consider boss' suspension order

HARRISBURG, Pa. (AP) — The office of Pennsylvania's attorney general began Tuesday trying to figure out how to comply with a state Supreme Court order to suspend her law license as it prepares to widen a pornographic email scandal that has already spurred firings and resignations.

The court notified Kathleen Kane on Tuesday that her suspension will take effect Oct. 21, creating the unprecedented situation of leaving the state's top law enforcement official without the ability to act as a lawyer, but still in charge of the 750-employee office.

The office's senior lawyers were examining which duties she would still be able to perform and which ones she would not, spokesman Chuck Ardo said.

The decision Monday by the five high court justices came barely a month after Montgomery County authorities charged Kane with perjury, obstruction and other counts for allegedly leaking investigative information to a reporter to embarrass two former state prosecutors and then lying about it.

State ethics enforcement lawyers had petitioned the court for the suspension. They argued that Kane, in her own grand jury testimony, admitted authorizing the release of information that she should have known was protected by criminal records secrecy laws.

That allegation is also central to the criminal case against Kane.

Bruce Antkowiak, a former federal prosecutor who runs the criminology program at Saint Vincent College in Latrobe, said it will be extraordinarily challenging for the office to sort out what Kane can and cannot do. It also could give defense lawyers an avenue to challenge filings in cases against their clients, Antkowiak said.

Her private lawyers have not said whether they will appeal the court's suspension order.

Kane, who won the office in 2012 in a landslide, maintains her innocence. She has vowed to complete her term, which ends in January 2017, and has resisted calls to resign, including by her fellow Democrat, Gov. Tom Wolf.

In the meantime, Kane has ordered the release of thousands more pornographic emails discovered by her office to involve current and former employees there, Ardo said. The release of emails will not be limited to her perceived critics or redacted to shield the names of allies, he added.

"She will release them all," Ardo said.

Kane's office has gone to court to fight The Philadelphia Inquirer's request seeking the release of the emails under Pennsylvania's open records law. Kane also has cited other reasons for not releasing the emails, including labor union agreements and a court order barring retaliation against current or former employees of the office who were witnesses in the case against her.

But those concerns have faded as the attorney general's office has received more and more open records requests to release the emails, Ardo said.

Involved in the exchanges of pornographic emails are people in government or law enforcement outside of the attorney general's office, including employees of the Pennsylvania State Police and Montgomery County, Ardo said.

He did not know whether the email chains involved any sitting state Supreme Court justices or investigators in the criminal case against her, he said.

Kane has said, however, that the criminal investigation into her was spurred by former state prosecutors who were afraid that she would reveal the existence of the pornographic emails. She also has maintained that releasing the emails will aid her defense against the criminal charges.

Ardo said Tuesday that Kane's decision to release the emails was not revenge for the suspension of her law license or the charges against her.

She has already released two troves of pornographic emails that were sent or received by 10 former members of the office who worked under her Republican predecessors, including several who were outspoken critics of hers.

A wave of resignations and firings followed, including the resignation of a state Supreme Court justice and the state environmental protection secretary last year.