HARRISBURG, Pa. (AP) — Pennsylvania's attorney general said Thursday she does not think she will be eligible to run for a second term next year if her law license remains suspended as she faces perjury, obstruction and other charges.
Attorney General Kathleen Kane told The Associated Press she is making plans to seek re-election in hopes her suspension is lifted by the April primary.
The state Supreme Court ruled unanimously to put her on indefinite temporary suspension Monday, and Kane said that appears to be a problem because the state constitution requires the attorney general to be a member of the bar.
"I believe you have to be a lawyer in good standing to be able to run," said Kane, who is awaiting trial on criminal charges that she leaked secret grand jury material to a reporter and then lied to cover it up.
Legal experts have divided opinions about whether the suspension disqualifies Kane, who became the first woman and first Democrat elected as the state's top prosecutor three years ago.
"It's a very good question, and I don't think there's an answer to it," said Northampton County District Attorney John Morganelli, who is considering running for the Democratic nomination. "I suspect what it means is, you have an active law license."
Veteran elections lawyer Gregory M. Harvey of Philadelphia, however, said Kane remains a member of the bar, even under suspension, so the courts could rule she can run. The Supreme Court said explicitly it was not removing her from office.
"The constitutional requirement is that you be a member of the bar," Harvey said. "So even if you're not in good standing, I would say, and the other people I've talked to about this say, you're eligible to file a nomination petition to put yourself on the ballot as a candidate for attorney general."
State Rep. Todd Stephens, R-Montgomery, who is running for the GOP nomination for attorney general, said questions about Kane's eligibility were in uncharted waters.
"Maybe someday the Supreme Court will rule on that, but it seems to me the point of that provision is to ensure that the officeholder could actually perform the duties of an attorney representing the Commonwealth of Pennsylvania, which she can no longer do," Stephens said.
Suspended lawyers can't appear as attorneys in court, can't give legal advice and can't sign court documents, said Sam Stretton, a West Chester lawyer who specializes in legal ethics cases.
"She won't be able to run again, at least that's my position," Stretton said. "If someone's not qualified, they can be challenged. At least as I read the constitution, she has to have a valid, active law license."
Pennsylvania Republican Party chairman Rob Gleason said the license suspension represents a significant barrier against her re-election.
"I'm not sure what the constitution would say, but I think the voters would have a big problem with it, no matter what the technical aspects of it were," Gleason said.
Kane was charged in August with felony perjury and lesser crimes. It's unclear when her case may go to trial, but a conviction prior to the election could also preclude her from holding office.
She was a largely unknown former prosecutor from Scranton in 2012 when she tapped into family money to help fund her successful campaign, something she does not expect to happen again.
"Probably not," she said after participating a daylong Pardons Board hearing in the Capitol. "We really put our heart and soul into the last one."
Despite her troubles, Kane retains some support, said Marcel Groen, the state Democratic Party chairman.
"She certainly comes with significant wounds and I'm not sure that anybody can overcome that," Groen said.