- Associated Press - Sunday, November 23, 2014

HARRISBURG, Pa. (AP) - When Kathleen Kane ran for Pennsylvania attorney general, she campaigned as a corruption-buster who would be independent of Gov. Tom Corbett and find out why it took more than three years to investigate Jerry Sandusky.

She was a rising star, winning in a landslide to become the first woman and first Democrat elected to the office. Democrats cheered when she refused to defend Pennsylvania’s ban on same-sex marriage and shut down Corbett’s effort to outsource management of the Pennsylvania Lottery.

Then came the battles. She had to defend why she didn’t pursue criminal charges in a sting made public by The Philadelphia Inquirer that had ensnared four Democratic state lawmakers accepting money. She has also feuded publicly with many longtime top investigators who left the office after working there under her predecessors.

Now Kane is facing a highly unusual and secret court-ordered investigation into whether she breached grand jury secrecy when her office gave information about an another investigation to a newspaper.

Critics see it as the latest episode of someone who is ill-equipped to be Pennsylvania’s top prosecutor - she is a former assistant district attorney in Lackawanna County whose wealthy husband helped financed her campaign.

Some defenders say she did nothing wrong. Others worry it is a back-door attempt to railroad someone out of office who, despite a poor public relations performance, has made solid decisions.

“Whether she did something wrong or not, she’s entitled to due process and a transparent investigation of her, which I don’t see right now,” said Northampton County District Attorney John Morganelli, a fellow Democrat. “What I see now is a lot of secrecy.”

Last Monday, Kane spent more than two hours in front of a grand jury. Judges have the latitude to punish a breach of grand jury secrecy, a contempt of court citation, with jail time, although not likely more than six months. A contempt conviction could trigger a legal, legislative or disciplinary process that could push her out of office, legislative lawyers say.

The process has been cloaked in secrecy.

On the day she testified, Kane confirmed to reporters that she was testifying before a special prosecutor and a grand jury investigating an alleged breach of grand jury secrecy. Pennsylvania’s Supreme Court chief justice, Ronald Castille, has declined comment on the matter, but has said he can authorize a special prosecutor when a grand jury judge requests one in a case in which the attorney general’s office has a conflict. The grand jury judge and special prosecutor have remained silent.

The investigation became public knowledge in a Sept. 1 Inquirer report citing anonymous sources. It reported that the grand jury inquiry revolved around a Philadelphia Daily News story in June that cited records about a 2009 investigation that resulted in no charges against the then-president of the Philadelphia NAACP chapter. That investigation took place under some of the former investigators with whom Kane has feuded.

One of Kane’s lawyers said Kane testified truthfully to the grand jury and that she did not breach secrecy laws. Attorney Lanny Davis also questioned the constitutional authority of what he called a vague and broadly worded secret court order issued by the grand jury judge that has stopped Kane from doing her duties or speaking freely.

“How is that possible in America today?” Davis asked.

For her part, Kane has tied the secret investigation to her exposure of a pornographic email scandal that has claimed the jobs of several high-profile officials, including a state Supreme Court justice and several former member of the attorney general’s office who went to work for Corbett when he became governor. The grand jury judge’s order, she said, prevents her from investigating the pornographic email scandal, or even explaining the connection.

“I understand that there are those on the public payroll who stand to lose their jobs and who may feel threatened by our commitment to expose them. I will not be deterred,” Kane said in a statement issued the day she testified.

Two hours later, she retracted that part of the statement.

“I hope whatever happens, the process has been fair and transparent,” Morganelli said, “and this isn’t some railroad job so someone else can run for attorney general.”


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