Attorney general candidates speak on Kane, death penalty

John M. Morganelli (from left), Joe Peters, John C. Rafferty Jr., Joshua D. Shapiro and Stephen A. Zappala speak to the Philadelphia Bar Association on Tuesday, March 1, 2016.

The five men seeking to become Pennsylvania's next top prosecutor all said at a forum Tuesday that Attorney General Kathleen Kane has mishandled the pornographic email scandal that has roiled her agency. They also proposed how they'd improve office morale and overhaul its operations.

The three Democrats and two Republicans running in the April 26 primary spent about 90 minutes fielding questions during a forum sponsored by the Philadelphia Bar Association. Kane, a Democrat, recently announced she will not seek a second term while she fights criminal allegations she leaked secret grand jury material and lied about it.

The first question concerned the email ring that has caused dozens of agency employees to be fired or disciplined, led one Supreme Court justice to abruptly retire and has a second facing ethics charges, and largely defined Kane's term in office as she has disclosed some but not all of the salacious and offensive content.

State Sen. John Rafferty, R.-Chester and Northampton County District Attorney John Morganelli, a Democrat, both criticized Kane's decision to bring in former Maryland Attorney General Doug Gansler to review a vast trove of office emails, a process that is underway.

Republican candidate Joe Peters, an ex-federal prosecutor who formerly served as Kane's official spokesman, said he would have already released much of the material, saying he would "start from the assumption that the citizenry who elected you, and the media, deserve as much sunshine as possible."

Montgomery County Commissioner Josh Shapiro, a Democrat, said he would have disclosed "all the emails" and determined if criminal acts or ethical violations occurred.

"I don't see a crime, and absent a crime I would send these emails to the appropriate agency," said Allegheny County District Attorney Stephen Zappala, the other Democrat.

All five described themselves as at least qualified supporters of the death penalty at a time when Democratic Gov. Tom Wolf has imposed a temporary moratorium on executions.

Shapiro said he supports it for "the most heinous of crimes" but believes the current system needs to be fixed. Zappala said he is concerned that 23-hour-a-day solo confinement for death row inmates may violate the constitutional proscription against cruel and unusual punishment. Morganelli said he supports the death penalty, but might support new limits on who qualifies.