‘Action’ against AG Kane sent to Supreme Court, sources say
HARRISBURG — The board that disciplines Pennsylvania lawyers notified Attorney General Kathleen Kane on Friday that an action against her was sent to the state Supreme Court and she has 10 days to respond, sources told the Tribune-Review.
That action wasn’t defined, but the court has the power to suspend the law license of an attorney for “egregious conduct.”
A suspension would mean Kane could not practice law and continue as the state’s chief prosecutor while she defends herself on criminal charges.
“I can’t confirm that,” said her spokesman, Chuck Ardo.
Kane and her New York City attorney, Gerald Shargel, could not be reached for comment.
“I can’t talk to you about it because anything I say can be held against me,” Kane told the Philadelphia Inquirer.
She is awaiting trial on charges of perjury, obstruction of justice and official oppression. Kane maintains she did nothing illegal.
Harrisburg is abuzz about whether the secretive lawyer discipline process is under way. It becomes public only if the Supreme Court acts.
A spokeswoman for Paul Killion, chief counsel of the Disciplinary Board of the Supreme Court, said it’s “all confidential at this point” and board officials can’t discuss an open case. Killion could not be reached for comment.
James Koval, a spokesman for the Supreme Court, said he didn’t know if any such action was filed with the court.
It might not be the emergency suspension provision. Activist Gene Stilp, who filed a complaint against Kane, said board officials told him a review of his case is open. But the board, through its disciplinary counsel and one member, could act far more quickly on an emergency suspension of Kane’s law license. The high court could decline to act.
Suspension would not remove Kane, a statewide elected Democrat, from office, said Bruce Ledewitz, a law professor at Duquesne University Law School. The state Constitution says the attorney general must be a member of the bar. Kane would not automatically lose her license with its suspension, and she would remain a member of the bar, Ledewitz said. But she could not practice law or sign documents as attorney general, he said.
First Deputy Bruce Beemer, a former Allegheny County prosecutor, would function as attorney general, officials say.
Kane, 49, of Scranton is accused of lying to an investigative grand jury that recommended charging her. Investigators said she orchestrated a leak of a 2009 grand jury case last year to embarrass a rival prosecutor and directed her office to cover it up. She’s accused of giving two employees the green light to snoop on other employees.
Patrick Reese, a Kane confidant who was her bodyguard and driver, is charged with criminal contempt, accused of tampering with state computers to obtain information from the grand jury investigating Kane. His trial is set for Sept. 9.
Lawmakers are talking about beginning impeachment proceedings against Kane, said Stephen Miskin, a House Republican spokesman. Historically, the Legislature has waited until an official is convicted, as it did before impeaching the late Justice Rolf Larsen in 1994 upon his conviction for conspiracy.
Charlie Gerow, a Republican consultant and attorney in Harrisburg, said impeachment becomes a “spectacle.” He said Democratic Gov. Tom Wolf, who has urged Kane to resign, should use another constitutional provision and petition the Senate to remove Kane by a two-thirds vote.
Republicans control the Senate, but it would require bipartisan support to garner a super-majority.
“There are no plans to ask the Senate to do that,” said Jeffrey Sheridan, Wolf’s spokesman.
Andrew Crompton, general counsel for Senate Republicans, said the Senate is “serious about exploring this” and lawyers are reviewing it. Removal requires “reasonable cause” and affords the official a hearing. Crompton believes the Senate could initiate the action.
If Kane’s law license were suspended, “the Legislature would not even have to make a case” for impeachment, Ledewitz said. The fact that she could not sign legal documents and perform her duties would be sufficient grounds for removal, he said.
But Robert Davis, a former prosecutor of errant lawyers in Pennsylvania, West Virginia and Georgia, said, “We’d hesitate to use that (emergency suspension) provision simply because someone has been indicted by a grand jury.”
Davis and others said the clause exists to remove lawyers from practice quickly if they steal client funds or cannot practice because of illness or drug addiction.
Brad Bumsted is Trib Total Media’s state Capitol reporter. Reach him at 717-787-1405 or [email protected].