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Pennsylvania taxpayers foot hefty legal bill for Kathleen Kane | TribLIVE.com
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Pennsylvania taxpayers foot hefty legal bill for Kathleen Kane

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Pennsylvania Attorney General Kathleen Kane leaves after her preliminary hearing Tuesday, Nov. 10, 2015, at the Montgomery County courthouse in Norristown.

HARRISBURG – Attorney General Kathleen Kane has charged taxpayers more than $250,000 to have an outside law firm represent her in three lawsuits filed by her former employees, state records show.

Two suits claim she wrongfully fired employees or denied promotion. A third says she defamed a former investigator.

They are among seven lawsuits against Kane since 2015. Most allege she punished employees who testified against her or challenged her authority as she faced a criminal investigation by the Montgomery County District Attorney’s Office.

Kane has at least 25 state-paid lawyers who could handle her defense in a civil case, officials say. In one of the seven cases, she used staff lawyers, court records show.

Overall, Kane still sought outside law firms with expertise in employment and defamation law, said her spokesman Chuck Ardo.

Asked about the expense to taxpayers, Rep. Tim Mahoney, D-Uniontown, said he doesn’t think outside law firms should be used.

“Aren’t we under enough stress with the (state) budget we’re dealing with now?” The state is facing a $2 billion structural budget deficit by July 2017, Gov. Tom Wolf has said.

Kane, 49, of Scranton continues to say through Ardo that she is paying for her criminal defense out of her own pocket. She has engaged multiple law firms, including the Manhattan firm Winston & Strawn, to fight criminal charges including perjury, obstruction of justice and official oppression. She is accused by prosecutors of covering up and lying about a grand jury leak.

Kane, who faces trial in August, maintains her innocence, saying she’s the victim of a “good old boy’s network” attempting to prevent her efforts to reveal their pornography on state computers.

“She is paying for outside legal help (in her criminal case) out of her own funds,” Ardo said.

Kane is the first woman and Democrat to hold the elected office of attorney general.

“It’s standard practice to use lawyers who specialize in a particular field, in this case employment law,” Ardo said.

“I’m sure most taxpayers don’t know the state is outsourcing millions of dollars a year in legal fees,” said Eric Epstein, founder of Rock the Capital, a good government advocacy group. “Legal fees are per diems on steroids.”

He acknowledged that there might be rare exceptions.

Bruce Antkowiak, who teaches law at Saint Vincent’s College, said those circumstances would include a conflict of interest or a case of such complexity that outside help is essential.

The $252,000 tab paid to Littler Mendelson of Philadelphia might be just the beginning. Kane has hired Pittsburgh-based Eckert Seamans to represent her office in a wrongful firing suit brought by a former agent who claims he was dismissed for complaining about a cover up in a drug operation. Eckert Seamans also represents Kane in a lawsuit by one of the office’s top supervisory investigators, Kevin Wevodau, a former FBI agent.

According to the suit, Kane called Wevodau a “cancer” on the office and accused him of being a “mole” for the FBI. She allegedly told him to leave OAG employment, but he remains on administrative leave.

A Right to Know law request showed Littler Mendelson received three checks from OAG, but the checks didn’t specify how much went toward each case. Richard Harris, the lead attorney, confirmed the cases include lawsuits brought by former state police commissioner Frank Noonan; a former OAG head of investigations; ex-deputy chief attorney general Frank Fina; and several others for defamation.

James Barker, former head of appeals who oversaw the statewide grand juries, was fired by Kane despite being under a judge’s protective order for his grand jury testimony, which conflicted with Kane’s.

George Moore, the OAG’s former human resources analyst, claims in a separate suit that he was wrongfully terminated for recommending the firing of Kane’s acting chief of staff Jonathan Duecker for sexual harassment of female employees. Kane also is named in a lawsuit brought by career investigators Michael Carlson and Michael Cranga, who claim Kane and Duecker denied them promotions because they testified in a statewide grand jury investigation that Kane was trying to stop, the investigators allege in a federal lawsuit.

In a separate case, former agent Claude Thomas claimed Kane defamed him by allegedly lying when she told the media he had been ordered by supervisors to target black legislators in a bribery investigation. Thomas, who is black, continues to deny those claims. Most of Thomas’ claims were dismissed by a Philadelphia judge, but one count to allow Thomas to clear his name remains active. Thomas’ attorney and state staff lawyers for Kane have appealed the case to Commonwealth Court.

Brad Bumsted is the Tribune-Review’s state Capitol reporter.

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