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Kane’s office locates grand jury legal bills it could not produce

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In this file photo from March 2015, Pennsylvania Attorney General Kathleen Kane walks from the State Supreme Court room at City Hall in Philadelphia.

HARRISBURG — A day after saying documents weren’t available, Attorney General Kathleen Kane’s office produced legal bills from outside law firms totaling more than $40,000 for at least five staffers who testified before the grand jury that investigated her.

Those employees hired lawyers for grand jury appearances and billed taxpayers, according to documents provided to the Tribune-Review with the employees’ names redacted.

The grand jury’s report recommending criminal charges against Kane was released Monday. The panel linked her to the leak of secret investigative material to a Philadelphia newspaper last year and said she should be charged with perjury, obstruction of justice and abuse of office.

Kane denies any wrongdoing or illegality.

It’s not known how many staffers testified. The grand jury presentment names seven current and former staffers and summarizes testimony from them that is mostly damaging to Kane.

If summoned by a grand jury, “You get a lawyer because you have no idea where this investigation may lead,” said Bruce Antkowiak, a law professor at St. Vincent College near Latrobe. You may think your role is insignificant but could “find yourself in an intricate web of conspiracy,” he said.

Kane has emphasized transparency during her tenure, but her office on Monday said it could not break down legal costs for cases before the grand jury, which handled 123 other cases.

Her spokesman, Chuck Ardo, said because the office is a law enforcement agency dealing with sensitive documents, it’s “often difficult to find the source of the information.” He had said some matters were protected by grand jury secrecy.

“Transparency has come to mean nothing,” said Eric Epstein, co-founder of Rock the Capital, a government watchdog group. “We need a new moral vocabulary. Most politicians, including the attorney general, use the term as an electoral punch line.”

Ardo said a “significant” number of staffers, particularly lower-ranking employees, went before the grand jury without lawyers. Those named in the presentment were top aides.

Adrian King, Kane’s former first deputy, did not submit legal bills. He’s a partner at Ballard Spahr in Philadelphia, which provided his legal representation.

Many staffers would use outside lawyers because the “interests of the Office of the Attorney General may well conflict with the interests of individuals who are employed there,” said Wes Oliver, who teaches criminal law at Duquesne University.

Ardo, who started last week as Kane’s seventh spokesman in two years, said he is trying to produce information for reporters without requiring formal Right to Know Law requests. That was the practice in the administration of ex-Gov. Ed Rendell, for whom Ardo was a press secretary.

Part of the reason Kane is restructuring the criminal division “is to provide that transparency,” Ardo said.

“Had there been no grand jury, certainly there would have been no need for them to have representation,” Ardo said. “But it was not Attorney General Kane’s preference to have a grand jury investigation in the first place.”

Two former state prosecutors contacted Montgomery County Judge William Carpenter, who oversaw the Norristown grand jury, to report that a Philadelphia Daily News reporter called them about information from an attorney general’s investigation they said was covered by grand jury secrecy law. Carpenter appointed a special prosecutor to investigate.

The grand jury last met in January. Montgomery County District Attorney Risa Vetri Ferman will decide whether to prosecute Kane on its recommended charges.

Brad Bumsted is Trib Total Media’s state Capitol reporter. Reach him at [email protected].

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