- Associated Press - Thursday, November 12, 2015

PHILADELPHIA (AP) - Five former Pennsylvania prosecutors and investigators sued Attorney General Kathleen Kane on Thursday, saying she illegally used the power of her office to retaliate against them after they criticized her public statements and handling of high-profile cases.

The federal lawsuit also names the Philadelphia Daily News and a reporter, and claims the plaintiffs’ free speech rights were violated and their reputations sullied by the embattled attorney general.

The allegations relate to a series of episodes that have kept Kane - and the plaintiffs - in headlines since she took office in early 2013, including a leaked story the newspaper published last year that prompted criminal charges against Kane, the state’s top prosecutor.

Kane had not reviewed the lawsuit Thursday, but intends to defend herself vigorously, an office spokesman said. A spokesman for the newspaper declined comment, and the reporter, Chris Brennan, was on vacation and did not immediately return messages. A defamation count and a false light count both were brought against Brennan and the newspaper.

“It is fundamental to every American citizen’s relationship with government that he or she be free to speak openly about their government and its elected officials without fear of retribution or retaliation by the vast powers of that government,” the lawsuit said.

Plaintiffs Frank Fina, Marc Costanzo and Rick Sheetz worked as prosecutors in the attorney general’s office before Kane was elected in 2012. Plaintiffs Randy Feathers and Frank Noonan were investigators for the attorney general’s office, and Noonan later served as state police commissioner.

“This is someone who comes into office, does things that are unlawful or unethical, and when critics try to exercise their First Amendment rights, she says … ‘I’m going to squash you,’” said Mark Tanner, the plaintiffs’ lawyer.

The case involves Kane’s decision not to prosecute a case she inherited, in which a confidential informant working for the attorney general’s office gave cash and gifts to state lawmakers and a judge. It said Kane “contrived an account” of that investigation to say it targeted black figures on racist grounds and was generally substandard, “while knowing that her repeated claims were false and defamatory.”

Another element centers on a story published last year by the Daily News about a 2009 grand jury investigation into the then-head of the Philadelphia NAACP that, the lawsuit claims, suggested Fina and Costanzo “improperly impeded” and terminated improperly.

Kane currently faces criminal charges for allegedly giving confidential grand jury information to Brennan then lying about it under oath, allegations she denies.

The lawsuit also includes a statement Kane made last year while releasing a report she commissioned into how the agency handled the child sex abuse investigation of Jerry Sandusky when the plaintiffs were among the highest ranking people in the office. Specifically, she said the length of the Sandusky investigation meant two additional victims had been harmed, a claim she later retracted. The former Penn State assistant football coach is currently serving prison time on child sex abuse convictions.

The plaintiffs also say she released information about pornographic videos and images in their state email accounts to retaliate against them for criticizing her. At one point, Kane’s office had to clarify that the pornography did not include child pornography after Kane said in a CNN interview that the emails included “hardcore, graphic, sometimes violent emails that had a string of videos and pictures depicting sometimes children.”

Information about the emails emerged from the review of the Sandusky investigation. As a result, Sheetz resigned his part-time job as a Lancaster County prosecutor and then-Gov. Tom Corbett asked Feathers to resign from the state probation and parole board, which Feathers did.

Fina and Costanzo, both now working for the Philadelphia district attorney’s office, were ordered to take sensitivity training. Dozens of other current or former employees of the attorney general’s office were disciplined or fired. A state Supreme Court justice also resigned.

___

This story has been corrected to show that Noonan was involved in investigations, not a prosecutor.

___

Scolforo reported from Harrisburg, Pennsylvania.

LOAD COMMENTS ()

 

Click to Read More

Click to Hide