Pennsylvania Senate probes whether attorney general should be removed

By David DeKok
Pennsylvania Attorney General Kathleen Kane congratulates Governor Tom Wolf following his inauguration ceremony at the State Capitol in Harrisburg, January 20, 2015. REUTERS/Mark Makela

By David DeKok

HARRISBURG, Pa. (Reuters) - None of the three legal experts called before a Pennsylvania Senate panel on Tuesday were willing to recommend that embattled Attorney General Kathleen Kane be removed from office now that her law license has been suspended.

Although stripped of her license in late October because she faces criminal charges of leaking secret grand jury information to a newspaper reporter, Kane, the first woman and first Democrat elected to the office, has kept running her 700-employee agency.

At the start of a two-day hearing into whether she should be removed from office, a Republican-dominated special Senate committee asked legal ethics experts whether they could say that her suspended law license was "reasonable cause" to recommend forcing her from office.

"No, I won't," said Robert Davis, a professor at Widener University Law School in Harrisburg. "You are pioneers in this respect."

Bruce Antkowiak, who teaches criminal justice at St. Vincent College in Latrobe, and attorney Beth Weisser of the Fox Rothschild law firm in Philadelphia, also declined to make a recommendation.

The committee is studying whether to remove Kane under a provision of the state Constitution - last used in 1891 - for “incapacity,” or the inability to do her job, in this case because her license has been suspended.

She has argued that even with a suspended license, she can oversee her staff as an administrator, leaving the legal work to deputies.

Four of those deputies, including Chief Deputy Attorney General Bruce Beemer, are expected to testify at the committee’s final hearing on Wednesday afternoon. A letter they sent to Kane, which was made public on Monday, warns that most functions of her office are off-limits to her without a license.

The committee was convened to make a recommendation to the full Senate, and began hearing testimony from legal experts earlier this month. It has promised to deliver its recommendation by the end of the month.

If the committee favors her removal, two-thirds of the Republican-controlled Senate would have to approve. Democrats are split on whether she should go. Governor Tom Wolf, a Democrat, has urged Kane to resign.

(Editing by Barbara Goldberg and Peter Cooney)