By David DeKok
HARRISBURG, Pa. (Reuters) - Republican state senators in Pennsylvania failed to muster enough votes on Wednesday to oust Attorney General Kathleen Kane, who is facing criminal charges for allegedly leaking secret grand jury material.
All but one of the Senate's 30 Republicans voted to remove Kane, a Democrat, from office because her law license has been suspended, falling four votes short of the two-thirds majority required. The chamber's 18 Democrats, as well as one Republican, opposed the move.
"It is simply not appropriate to take this action," said Senator Judy Schwank, a Democrat who served on the committee that examined Kane's removal. "It is an outrage against voters' right to choose their elected officials."
Kane has been in legal hot water ever since her indictment last summer for allegedly passing grand jury information to a reporter as part of a personal feud.
The Pennsylvania Supreme Court suspended her law license last fall. Wednesday's debate in the Senate focused on whether Kane could continue to function as attorney general without a license to practice law.
Unlike impeachment, which targets officeholders who have committed crimes and requires action by both legislative chambers, removal is aimed at incompetent but law-abiding officials and requires only Senate action.
The process had not been used since 1891.
"When you have a suspended law license, you cannot do anything!" said Senator John Gordner, the Republican who chaired the removal committee, during Wednesday's three-hour debate.
But others, notably Democratic former Governor Edward Rendell, who served eight years as district attorney of Philadelphia, previously testified at hearings that a license was not essential. Rendell said that in a large district attorney office, the job is mainly about making managerial decisions, not practicing law.
Kane has claimed her indictment was brought in response to her efforts to release thousands of explicit or offensive e-mails circulated by former prosecutors in her office, including those who prosecuted Penn State sexual predator Jerry Sandusky, and two members of the state Supreme Court, among others.
"Today is a good day for all those who share my desire to restore confidence in our judges and prosecutors and integrity to our system of justice," Kane said in a statement after the vote.
She could still face removal efforts. The state House of Representatives voted separately on Wednesday to begin an impeachment inquiry, while Senate Republicans used a procedural maneuver that allows them to call for another removal vote if circumstances change.
(Editing by Joseph Ax and Leslie Adler)