Grand jury judge: Kane or her agents stole confidential files from office |
Politics Election

Grand jury judge: Kane or her agents stole confidential files from office

Pennsylvania Attorney General Kathleen Kane leaves her preliminary hearing Monday, Aug. 24, 2015, at the Montgomery County courthouse in Norristown.

HARRISBURG — Attorney General Kathleen Kane or her agents were behind the break-in of a grand jury judge's office in 2013 in which confidential documents were taken, the judge said Wednesday.

“I'd swear to it in an affidavit,” said Senior Northumberland County Judge Barry Feudale, the grand jury judge who presided over high-profile public corruption cases involving the Legislature and Penn State administrators in the Jerry Sandusky child abuse case.

Kane successfully petitioned the Supreme Court to remove Feudale essentially for speaking derisively of former Attorney General Linda Kelly and for wielding a knife, which he denied.

“That's a burglary. It's a theft,” Feudale told the Tribune-Review.

The materials taken from his Harrisburg office included three sensitive files, the judge said.

“That is a serious allegation, and I would expect that Judge Feudale has the evidence to back it up,” said Kane's spokesman, Chuck Ardo.

The allegation that a high-ranking elected official ordered or condoned a break-in of the office of a potential political enemy defies comparison in state politics, said Muhlenberg College political science professor Chris Borick.

“Obviously, it harkens to Watergate. That's the first thing you think of when you hear about breaking into political offices,” Borick said. “That's a very new twist, and one that does take this to a whole new level if it's true.”

Kane obtained private emails from Feudale to his attorneys and former state prosecutor Frank Fina, with whom she has feuded, The Philadelphia Inquirer and The Morning Call of Allentown reported Tuesday.

Emails released

Kane released some of the emails between Feudale and the Inquirer reporters Wednesday evening, accusing the judge of scheming to “leak sealed Supreme Court documents without getting caught,” according to an email she sent to media members.

Feudale's accusation is similar to criminal charges filed against Kane that allege she leaked secret court documents to reporters and then lied about it under oath. She has denied wrongdoing.

The criminal complaint against Kane, filed in August, claims she and her security agent engaged in a “cloak-and-dagger” campaign to silence her critics. The charges against her include perjury, obstruction of justice and official oppression.

Fina had no comment except to say he believes a special prosecutor is needed to look at all of the allegations.

“I have instructed my office to send a complete set of these emails to the Judicial Conduct Board,” Kane's email stated.

It's a move that Feudale expected.

The Attorney General's Office oversees three statewide grand juries, and its computer system houses those documents and others, including emails.

“Any implication that the (Office of Attorney General) is in possession of emails from Judge Feudale's personal email account that are not currently on OAG servers is false. Any implication that these emails are on OAG servers by any other means than the ordinary course of business is, again, false,” Kane's email stated.

Feudale said he mistakenly sent a couple of emails to Fina's attorney general address last fall. His email software automatically typed in the old address, not the new one in the Philadelphia District Attorney's Office where Fina now works. They included emails with two Philadelphia Inquirer reporters.

Apparently the Attorney General's Office left Fina's email account open after he left the office, Feudale said.

Fina's computer hard drive had been seized the day before his departure in January 2013.

Police don't investigate

Feudale was away for four days on the weekend of the break-in. He reported it to Capitol police, saying it would be an easy case because access to state offices is traceable based on door “swipes” with an entry card and a code. But the Capitol police told him that they would not be able to investigate it, Feudale claimed. The Inquirer reported the Capitol police turned it over to the Attorney General's Office.

Capitol police Superintendent Joseph Jacob could not be reached.

Feudale's lawyer Sam Stretton called it “very, very frightening law enforcement feels it can look at (a judge's) private emails.”

“It's mind-boggling to me the attorney general or her agents would do that,” said Stretton of West Chester.

Meanwhile, a second judge stated in court this week in a pretrial hearing for Kane's bodyguard and driver, Patrick Reese, that he and his wife were followed during the period he was running the statewide grand jury that investigated Kane.

Montgomery County Judge William Carpenter did not accuse Reese or anyone in the Attorney General's Office.

Reese is charged with criminal contempt for spying on other employees in the email system and going through documents in the grand jury investigating Kane.

“He (Carpenter) didn't have any idea who might have engaged in that conduct,” said William Fetterhoff, Reese's attorney. “It didn't seem relevant to Patrick Reese at all.”

Carpenter said he believed he had to disclose it to the defense. Reached Wednesday by phone, he said he could not comment beyond what he stated in court.

On the job — for now

The revelations likely won't accelerate the timetable for a newly formed state Senate committee looking into whether Kane can continue to lead the office after the Supreme Court suspended her law license.

The committee has 30 days to come up with its report, which member Lisa Baker, R-Luzerne County, called “a very tight timeline.”

The committee's work will include a public hearing and a webpage for public input.

“Our focus is very, very narrow,” said Sen. Gene Yaw, R-Williamsport, a member of the committee. “It's whether or not a person can hold the Office of Attorney General when they don't have a law license. … All this other circus that's going on out there really has nothing to do with what our charge is and what we intend to address.”

Kane's “situation is what triggered it, but we're looking at it strictly from the legal point where you say, ‘OK, you have a person who doesn't have a law license; can they hold the position of attorney general?' ”

That might be the focus at the moment, but senators are preparing for a far more consequential role.

“I have been advised by our counsel that senators ought not be commenting because we could be jurors” if the legislature decides to try to remove Kane from office, said Sen. John Blake, D-Scranton.

The committee could recommend Kane's removal under an obscure provision of the state constitution.

“There's no preconceived notion of what the next step will be,” Baker said.

Feudale is the latest judge to find emails he thought were confidential aired in public and sent to judicial overseers. Former Supreme Court Justice Seamus McCaffery was suspended and then retired after Kane gave pornographic emails he sent to former prosecutors and an attorney general's agent to former Chief Justice Ronald Castille, who demanded them.

The Judicial Conduct Board is looking into emails from a private account of Justice Michael Eakin, which Kane provided.

“I don't think her actions have helped her in any way,” Borick said. However, “they've certainly damaged a lot of other folks and the broader reputation of the judiciary in Pennsylvania.”

Brad Bumsted and Mike Wereschagin are Trib Total Media staff writers. Reach Bumsted at 717-787-1405 or [email protected]. Reach Wereschagin at 412-320-7900 or [email protected].

TribLIVE commenting policy

You are solely responsible for your comments and by using you agree to our Terms of Service.

We moderate comments. Our goal is to provide substantive commentary for a general readership. By screening submissions, we provide a space where readers can share intelligent and informed commentary that enhances the quality of our news and information.

While most comments will be posted if they are on-topic and not abusive, moderating decisions are subjective. We will make them as carefully and consistently as we can. Because of the volume of reader comments, we cannot review individual moderation decisions with readers.

We value thoughtful comments representing a range of views that make their point quickly and politely. We make an effort to protect discussions from repeated comments either by the same reader or different readers

We follow the same standards for taste as the daily newspaper. A few things we won't tolerate: personal attacks, obscenity, vulgarity, profanity (including expletives and letters followed by dashes), commercial promotion, impersonations, incoherence, proselytizing and SHOUTING. Don't include URLs to Web sites.

We do not edit comments. They are either approved or deleted. We reserve the right to edit a comment that is quoted or excerpted in an article. In this case, we may fix spelling and punctuation.

We welcome strong opinions and criticism of our work, but we don't want comments to become bogged down with discussions of our policies and we will moderate accordingly.

We appreciate it when readers and people quoted in articles or blog posts point out errors of fact or emphasis and will investigate all assertions. But these suggestions should be sent via e-mail. To avoid distracting other readers, we won't publish comments that suggest a correction. Instead, corrections will be made in a blog post or in an article.