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DAs: Law license critical for Pa. attorney general to function

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Pennsylvania Attorney General Kathleen Kane speaks with members of the media after her arrangement before a district judge, Thursday, Oct. 1, 2015, in Collegeville, Pa.
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Bucks County DA's Office
Bucks County District Attorney David Heckler
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Sen. John Gordner, R-Bloomsburg, is chairing the Senate Committee on Direct Address, which is determining whether Attorney General Kathleen Kane can perform her job without a law license.

HARRISBURG — Bucks County District Attorney David Heckler, a former judge and state senator, on Monday told a special Senate committee that if his law license were suspended indefinitely, as is Attorney General Kathleen Kane’s, he would not be able to do his job.

“Virtually every part of it is based on the fact I am a lawyer and make legal judgments,” Heckler, a Republican, told the Senate Committee on Direct Address during its first hearing.

Berks County District Attorney John Adams, a Democrat, agreed: “Basically, I’d be on permanent vacation if I did not have a law license. My golf game would get better.”

Another Democrat, District Attorney Lisa Lazzari-Strasiser of Somerset County, said Kane’s suspended law license will “have a ripple effect across the state.” She questioned whether multi-county drug task forces can legally operate.

The Attorney General Office’s authority enables her to investigate across county lines, and that authority cannot be in question, she said.

The six-member, bipartisan Senate committee is expected to recommend by Thanksgiving eve whether Kane can fulfill her duties with a suspended license. A hearing is scheduled for next week on constitutional issues.

The session with district attorneys raised “more questions than it answered,” said Kane’s spokesman, Chuck Ardo.

“It’s a kangaroo court,” author William Keisling, who supports Kane, said of the Senate process. “There are no rules of evidence. It’s very troubling. If they are going to go this route, they have to have full hearings.”

The Supreme Court suspended Kane’s license indefinitely on Oct. 22 because she faces criminal charges of perjury, obstruction of justice and official oppression. Prosecutors in Montgomery County — where Kane is scheduled to appear Tuesday — say she masterminded a leak of grand jury material from a 2009 case to embarrass a political foe.

The lawyer disciplinary board’s counsel argued that as a criminal defendant, Kane has a conflict in charging people with crimes.

Heckler said his office has not been affected by Kane’s loss of her license. District attorneys often refer cases to the attorney general if they have a conflict of interest. Heckler said his staff is large enough to handle conflicts if they arise.

Kane, 49, of Scranton is the first woman and Democrat elected attorney general.

The Senate, controlled by Republicans, is using an obscure provision of the state constitution to consider Kane’s ouster. It requires a super-majority, bipartisan vote.

If that occurs, the document ordering her removal would be submitted to Gov. Tom Wolf, a Democrat who has suggested that Kane resign.

Kane said last week that she does not recognize the Senate’s authority to take action against her, including its subpoena for records. She contends the proper forum for removal would be impeachment, which begins in the House.

The Senate’s position “is not valid,” Ardo reiterated Monday, “and its subpoena is not valid, either.”

Sen. John Gordner, a Bloomsburg Republican chairing the committee, said Kane was given a week to comply with a subpoena served Friday.

If she does not respond, the Senate can seek a court order to force her compliance, Senate General Counsel Drew Crompton said. Refusal to respond to the court could result in a contempt citation.

The constitution allows for Senate removal of statewide elected officials other than the governor and lieutenant governor, Senate GOP lawyers say. Lawmakers are not subject to removal by “direct address.”

Brad Bumsted is Trib Total Media’s state Capitol reporter. He can be reached at 717-787-1405 or [email protected].

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