HARRISBURG, Pa. (AP) - A judge has postponed a hearing next week on whether Attorney General Kathleen Kane should be held in contempt of court after Kane’s lawyers on Thursday challenged the basis for the hearing.
Instead, Montgomery County Judge William Carpenter said he will use the scheduled Monday session to dwell on the issues raised by Kane’s lawyers, including their claim that Carpenter is biased against the attorney general and should step aside from judging whether she should be held in contempt of court.
Carpenter’s order to postpone the hearing did not respond directly to the request to recuse himself or any other issues raised by Kane’s lawyers.
In September, Carpenter issued a protective order barring Kane’s office from retaliating against witnesses in the court-ordered investigation into allegations that Kane’s office leaked information that should have been kept secret.
Carpenter scheduled the contempt hearing in response to Kane’s April 8 firing of prosecutor James Barker to determine whether Barker had been fired in retaliation for his grand jury testimony in the leak investigation.
Kane’s lawyers said in Thursday’s court filing that Carpenter’s order last year had expired before Barker’s April 8 firing, and they reiterated Kane’s contention that Barker’s firing had nothing to do with his grand jury testimony in the investigation. Furthermore, they wrote, Kane had no motive to retaliate against Barker because he had helped her office challenge Carpenter’s protective order and, in internal correspondence, had deemed it to be “unwarranted and unlawful.”
They also wrote that Carpenter should recuse himself from the process because they say he is biased against Kane and colluded with the special prosecutor to investigate her and recommend that she be prosecuted.
In addition, they objected to the process involving the contempt hearing. They said they have not received witness statements and other information from prosecutors that would allow them to mount a defense. Plus, Carpenter’s selection of a three-judge panel for the hearing has no apparent authority or precedent, they contended, and it is not clear how the panel will reach a decision in the case.
A contempt conviction can result in jail time, but not likely more than six months, and would trigger a disciplinary process that could endanger a lawyer’s law license. In Kane’s circumstances, the loss of her license would render her unqualified to hold the office.
The state Supreme Court in January unsealed the grand jury’s recommendation that Kane be charged with criminal contempt, perjury, obstruction, false swearing and official oppression stemming from allegations that her office gave secret investigative material to a newspaper last year. Its written report has not been disclosed publicly and Montgomery County District Attorney Risa Vetri Ferman is looking into its findings.
Kane has not been charged with any crime and has maintained that she is not guilty of leaking secret information.
Barker has declined to discuss his grand jury testimony. Barker was abruptly fired after six years at the attorney general’s office, where he was in charge of the office’s criminal appeals cases and grand juries. Barker said he had had no disciplinary issues during his time in the office and was given no reason for his firing.
Kane’s office has said Barker’s firing came amid a restructuring of his unit, and cited his “supervisory accountability” amid news reports on grand jury proceedings that were supposed to have been kept secret. The office has not singled out any particular news reports.
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