HARRISBURG — More than 3 1⁄2 weeks since suffering a concussion in an auto accident, Attorney General Kathleen Kane is working from home while under medically ordered travel restrictions that prohibit her from appearing before a grand jury or going to her office near the Capitol, her spokeswoman said Wednesday.
Aide Renee Martin strongly denied that Kane is attempting to avoid the grand jury in Norristown that is investigating a leak from her office.
“Absolutely not,” she said, though she said she could not acknowledge the grand jury’s existence.
Kane hasn’t suffered memory loss but was “experiencing pain” last week when Martin visited her home in Clarks Summit, a borough of about 5,000 people near Scranton.
Martin did not know what medication, if any, had been prescribed for Kane and said she could not talk about her condition or release her doctor’s name or the medical orders.
Kane is the first Democrat and woman elected attorney general. Her salary is $156,264. The health of the state’s top prosecutor for civil and criminal matters is a “legitimate concern” for the public, said former Acting Attorney General Walter Cohen, now in private practice in Harrisburg.
If Kane has lasting symptoms from a concussion, she should temporarily relinquish duties to her first deputy, said Bruce Castor, former Montgomery County District Attorney. Castor said he did so while on painkillers after surgery in 2007.
“If I were the judge, I’d move the grand jury on a bus to see her,” said Castor, a Republican county commissioner who ran unsuccessfully for attorney general in 2004. Castor said he had no firsthand knowledge of the grand jury and based his remarks on published reports.
“She has not turned over operations of her office to anyone” and doesn’t intend to, Martin said.
Kane struck her head in an Oct. 21 car accident in Dunmore that her office did not make public for 10 days. Dunmore police changed the accident report to reflect Kane’s statement that she was not wearing a seatbelt while riding in the back seat. The police report said Kane’s car was not exceeding the 15 mph posted speed limit. Two security guards traveling with her are former Dunmore police officers, one of them the ex-chief.
The accident occurred the morning Kane was scheduled to appear before the grand jury under subpoena, the Philadelphia Inquirer reported.
Dunmore is immediately east of Scranton and south of Kane’s home in Clarks Summit.
Martin told the Tribune-Review she did not know why Kane was in Dunmore or where she was going at 6:55 a.m. when the accident happened.
Former Attorney General Ernie Preate, a Republican who resigned in 1995 to plead guilty to mail fraud, called the circumstances of the accident “mystifying.”
“I hope she is not too seriously ill that she can’t perform the duties of her office,” said Preate, a Scranton lawyer.
The secrecy surrounding Kane’s medical condition has raised questions, Preate said. “It’s truly an unnecessary problem she created,” he said.
Northampton County District Attorney John Morganelli said he sees no need for Kane “to turn over the reins of power.”
There’s no formal mechanism to do so, said Bruce Ledewitz, a Duquesne University Law School professor. Ledewitz said he believes Kane likely informally delegated more matters to First Deputy Bruce Beemer.
Martin said Kane keeps in regular contact with Beemer and her senior staff.
John Burkoff, a professor at the University of Pittsburgh Law School, said he trusts Kane’s “ability to realize when and if she is so incapacitated that she needs to temporarily turn over some or all of her authority to someone else. … The need to work from home temporarily, even for someone at as high a level as the AG, should not be viewed as disabling.”
It should not matter if the grand jury’s term elapses Dec. 31, Morganelli said. Investigative reports typically transfer from one grand jury to another. The special prosecutor assigned to the case may be able to ask for another grand jury to be approved by the Supreme Court, he said.
Though some concussion patients might face driving restrictions, there’s no real reason for them not to travel as passengers, said Dr. Jack Wilberger, chairman of neurosurgery at Allegheny General Hospital in the North Side, speaking in general.
“You have to get in the car at some point to go see the doctor,” said Wilberger, who is not involved in Kane’s care. Some people experience sensitivity to light after a concussion, which might stop them from going outside, he said.
Concussions caused by vehicle accidents are as common as sports-related concussions, experts said.
“The forces are greater in car accidents than what we see in sports,” said Micky Collins, director of UPMC Sports Medicine Concussion Program. He is not involved in Kane’s case and did not speak specifically about her treatment.
Concussion symptoms might be exacerbated in people who suffer accompanying injuries such as broken bones.
Wilberger said recovery time varies, depending on the severity of the concussion, but most people recover in three to four weeks. Wilberger said they should be able to make sound decisions. He cautioned that symptoms may linger in people who return to work too soon without proper treatment.
“We’ve seen high-profile folks who want to get back into action right way. Some never stop. Unfortunately, that can make the concussion symptoms last much longer. The brain doesn’t like that overstimulation,” Wilberger said.
Depending on the severity, concussions can cause thinking problems or interfere with the ability to move or see, Collins said. They can cause headaches or migraines, neck problems, anxiety and mood problems, he said.
“Every case is different,” Collins said. “The most important thing is to make sure the person is getting the right rehab and treatment for that specific type. Some people don’t get better if it’s not treated right.”
Brad Bumsted is Trib Total Media’s state Capitol reporter. Reach him at 717-787-1405 or [email protected]. Medical editor Luis Fábregas contributed.