Pennsylvania's attorney general is ordered to stand trial

AP News
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Posted: Aug 24, 2015 8:54 PM

NORRISTOWN, Pa. (AP) — The state's attorney general on Monday was ordered to stand trial on charges she leaked secret grand jury information to embarrass a rival prosecutor.

Kathleen Kane, the first woman and first Democrat to be elected Pennsylvania attorney general, didn't speak as she left a suburban Philadelphia courthouse flanked by bodyguards.

A judge rejected her lawyer's contention she had another way of humiliating the rival prosecutor: pornography. Defense lawyer Gerald Shargel raised Kane's knowledge of explicit office emails near the end of Monday's evidence hearing, saying exposing former prosecutor Frank Fina's "disgraceful conduct" would have been an easier way to retaliate against him.

Judge Cathleen Kelly Rebar warned Shargel he was "far afield" in invoking pornography, a central theme of Kane's public defense, because prosecutors hadn't delved into motive during the hearing.

Fina, reached by phone, declined to comment on Shargel's argument.

Kane, 49, also is charged with lying under oath about the leak, ordering aides to illegally snoop through computer files to keep tabs on the investigation into it and harming the reputation of a former civil rights leader named in the leaked documents. She could face up to seven years in prison if convicted of the most serious charge, perjury.

She remains free pending an Oct. 14 court appearance. No trial date has been scheduled.

Inside the courtroom, Kane sat quietly at the defense table, flipping through documents and jotting notes, as prosecutors outlined how they believe she passed a transcript and memorandum related to a 2009 grand jury investigation to a Philadelphia Daily News reporter last year.

A top aide to Kane left a package containing the material between his front and screen doors, prosecutor Kevin Steele said. A political consultant who helped Kane get elected three years ago picked up the package and delivered it to a reporter, prosecutors said.

Prosecutors called two witnesses: a top Kane aide and the lead investigator in the case against her.

Special agent David Peifer, in charge of special investigations for Kane's office, testified he provided her with a copy of a transcript cited in the Daily News article months before it was published. Peifer also testified he had a copy of a memo related to a confidential case emailed to her last summer.

Kane told a grand jury last November she had never seen the memo, prosecutors said.

Focusing on the leak, prosecutors contrasted remarks Kane made about the sanctity of grand jury proceedings as a county prosecutor in 1999 with her testimony to the leak grand jury last November.

In the earlier testimony, Kane said she would feign ignorance to preserve the confidentiality of grand jury proceedings. She testified last November she wasn't subject to secrecy rules surrounding a 2009 grand jury investigation because she was never sworn in to that grand jury.

Shargel argued the perjury count didn't meet the legal definition and prosecutors didn't outline other allegations with enough specificity.

Challenging a conspiracy charge, he said there was "no suggestion that two people of a like criminal mind joined forces, joined ranks and entered into an agreement."

Shargel argued accusations Kane used her position to smear a former Philadelphia NAACP head's reputation were moot because the man had already been the subject of negative newspaper articles.

Detective Paul Bradbury, who investigated Kane, said the leak caused the NAACP official "great personal distress" and forced him to close his charity when donations dried up after the newspaper story appeared.

Kane has said releasing the pornographic emails exchanged by office employees is crucial to her defense strategy, but her office said last week it has concerns disclosing them could be perceived as retaliating against witnesses in the criminal case against her.

Kane has said the leak investigation and criminal charges were a "stealth political weapon" to oust her from office and a campaign to discredit her began after her office found pornographic and explicit video images and jokes in hundreds of emails while reviewing a predecessor's handling of the child sex abuse case against former Penn State assistant football coach Jerry Sandusky.

The email scandal, which surfaced last summer, resulted in six firings, 23 reprimands and two high-profile resignations, including that of a state Supreme Court judge.