The Kane drain: Yet another way to sink

20150419-Kathleen-Kane
Pa. Attorney General Kathleen Kane walks out of the Montgomery County Courthouse in Norristown after her preliminary hearing.

THE STRANGE saga of Kathleen Kane and the spilled milk of her political career continue to spread and might soon envelop another legal fight, one awash in constitutional questions.

Yep. The seemingly unending case of leaks, porn, politics and a perjury charge against Kane is poised to take on a new dimension.

Not that the state's elected attorney general doesn't have enough to deal with.

She already awaits trial, accused of leaking grand-jury material to embarrass a political foe then lying about it under oath.

She already awaits potential action by the state Supreme Court to strip her law license.

She also faces potential impeachment.

And now?

Well, now the state Senate's looking at a provision of the Pennsylvania Constitution that could remove her from office.

Article VI, Section 7, says any elected official other than the governor, lieutenant governor, a member of the Legislature or a judge "shall be removed by the Governor for reasonable cause, after due notice and full hearing, on the address of two-thirds of the Senate."

Drew Crompton, counsel to Senate President Joe Scarnati, says Senate leaders are in "the preliminary stages" of using the provision and intend to retain outside counsel to examine all aspects of its application.

(They, and by "they" I mean Harrisburg, almost always retain outside counsel for high-profile stuff because, you know, there's only about half-a-bazillion lawyers on your state payroll.)

Crompton says if the high court suspends Kane's license, "that would add to the gravity of moving forward."

Such movement would be unprecedented.

Gov. Wolf's spokesman, Jeff Sheridan, says if it happens, "the governor would certainly listen to what the Senate has to say."

Actually, the provision seems clear: If the Senate acts, the governor "shall" remove the person in question.

But a full review of the provision's intent - defining, for example, "reasonable cause" and determining what constitutes "due notice" and what form a "hearing" would take - must happen before any Senate decision, Crompton says.

Some even question whether the Senate alone can initiate the provision.

So there's a good chance of legal challenges ahead.

Constitutional expert and Duquesne University law professor Bruce Ledewitz says "direct address" provisions are rare, and calls Pennsylvania's "weird."

He says: "It's conviction without impeachment. I wonder why the framers gave the Senate so much power."

(Under impeachment, the House votes to impeach and the Senate votes to convict. It takes two-thirds of senators present to convict. Under "direct address," it appears that removal is mandatory if two-thirds of the Senate says so.)

Then, of course, there's politics.

Kane's a Democrat. The House and Senate are controlled by Republicans.

Kane insists she's done nothing wrong, will fight on all fronts and will seek re-election next year.

Moving slowly to oust Kane could be viewed as a GOP tactic: Keep her in office in an election year in hopes of gaining more support for Republican candidates.

Wolf has called for Kane's resignation. Former Gov. Ed Rendell said she should take a leave (as opposed to taking Aleve, though that's probably not a bad idea, either).

Some citizen Kane (no pun intended) supporters held a Capitol rally/news conference last week charging courts, prosecutors and media with conspiring to unfairly oust Kane while denying her due process.

There were signs, including "Women Haters?" And the group said Kane should be permitted to keep her license and her office pending the outcome of her trial.

There are many questions surrounding Kane's case, among the foremost is why she was charged with a grand-jury leak while other such leaks, including some detrimental to her, appear to be ignored.

But there is no question the entire entangled episode is far from finished.

Or that it carries at least potential of leaving flotsam and jetsam of justice.


Email: baerj@phillynews.com

Blog: ph.ly/BaerGrowls

Columns: ph.ly/JohnBaer

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