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Report: Senate should act on Kane only if law license remains suspended

PennsylvaniaAttorneyGeneralJPEG095e5
Pennsylvania Attorney General Kathleen Kane speaks during a news conference Tuesday, Dec. 1, 2015, at the National Constitution Center in Philadelphia.

HARRISBURG — A special Senate committee recommended Wednesday that lawmakers vote on removing Attorney General Kathleen Kane from office if her law license remains suspended.

But if the state Supreme Court grants Kane’s petition to reinstate her law license, the committee recommends dropping a removal resolution. If the court even takes up her petition, the Senate should hold off, the report said.

“Prudence dictates that be answered first,” said Sen. Lisa Baker, R-Luzerne County.

Through four hearings that began in November, the committee has considered whether Kane, 49, a Scranton Democrat, can perform the duties voters elected her to do in 2012 as the state’s chief law enforcement officer.

If she remains suspended from practicing law, the committee voted 4-3 along party lines that the Senate should hold a vote on Kane’s status. Democrats opposed a vote.

“It is clear that a Senate vote on Ms. Kane’s ability to perform the functions of her position with an indefinitely suspended law license is warranted,” said Senate President Pro Tempore Joseph Scarnati, R-Jefferson County, who initiated the removal effort last year.

“It is important that each member of the Senate has the ability to review this report and vote on the issue at hand,” he said, but he noted the report made it clear no action should be taken before the Supreme Court addresses Kane’s license.

Kane’s spokesman Chuck Ardo said she “believes the committee took the appropriate action in deciding to wait” for the court determination.

Sen. John Gordner, R-Bloomsburg, the committee chairman, said he refrained from offering his opinion throughout the hearings.

“I believe she should be removed from office,” Gordner said.

Baker said “serious questions” remain about whether Kane is “rigorously abiding by the restrictions imposed as part of her suspended law license, and whether she should be allowed to remain in office with such a suspension in place.”

The court suspended Kane’s license, effective in October, after she was charged with crimes, including felony perjury. Prosecutors in Montgomery County claim Kane leaked grand jury information to a newspaper and lied about it under oath. Kane maintains her innocence.

Her trial date isn’t set. A felony conviction would preclude Kane from holding the office.

Removing a statewide elected official under a constitutional provision that hasn’t been used in a century requires a two-thirds vote, meaning some Democrats would have to join the GOP majority.

On the eve of the final Senate hearing two weeks ago, Kane filed an emergency petition asking the court to reinstate her license. She cited suspended Supreme Court Justice Michael Eakin’s exchange of offensive emails that she uncovered and sent to the Judicial Conduct Board.

Her lawyer argued that Eakin’s vote to suspend her license could have tainted the process and that justices should vote again.

This month, three Democrats were seated on the court, taking majority control away from Republicans. The GOP controls both chambers of the Legislature.

The Senate could choose any option recommended by the committee, or do nothing. Any senator could call up a vote on Kane.

Kane has said the Senate effort is unconstitutional and that impeachment is the proper process for considering her removal.

The House on Tuesday began an impeachment effort by approving a resolution in the Judiciary Committee that starts an investigation. The process could take months. If the House votes to impeach Kane, the Senate would hold a trial to determine her fate. Impeachment bars an official from holding elected office.

If the Senate removes Kane, she could serve in state office again if acquitted. She has said she is running for re-election.

Brad Bumsted is the Tribune-Review’s state Capitol reporter. Reach him at 717-787-1405 or [email protected].

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