Kathleen Kane, the former attorney general of Pennsylvania who recently resigned after being found guilty of perjury, won’t spend much time in prison, but she likely won’t be practicing law for a long time – if ever again – a Duquesne University law professor says.
Kane was convicted Aug. 15 on two counts of felony perjury, as well as a series of misdemeanor charges by a unanimous 12-person jury. She was accused of leaking grand jury documents in a 2009 embezzlement investigation of J. Whyatt Mondesire, a journalist and former head of the Philadelphia branch of the NAACP who passed away in October.
Kane allegedly leaked the secret documents to the Philadelphia Daily News in an attempt to embarrass another prosecutor.
Her felony charges are directly related to her testimony to a grand jury that focused on whether she knew about the leaked information. During the trial, a witness gave testimony that Kane gave a direct order to release the documents.
Since the conviction, Kane has resigned from office and is awaiting sentencing, which is scheduled to occur in mid-November. Kane is facing the maximum of 28 years in prison for the offense, although sentencing guidelines in Pennsylvania dictate a lighter sentence.
“Kane resigned, which I think the judge will take into account,” said Bruce Ledewitz, professor of law at Duquesne University. “On the other hand, judges really hate perjury by elected officials. I think the judge will feel that some kind of incarceration is probably necessary, but I imagine it would be a short period. She doesn’t have a record or anything like that, but perjury is a pretty serious crime,” said Ledewitz.
Ledewitz believes that while the charges and penalty will certainly impact Kane’s reputation, her legal career may also be over. She will certainly face suspension or disbarment.
“The only question is whether it will be a longtime suspension or an actual disbarment – that I don’t know,” Ledewitz said. “It will be one or the other. She won’t practice law for a very long time, if ever.”
Her law license had already been temporarily suspended, leading to an awkward situation in which the state’s top lawyer couldn’t practice law.
She was officially charged a year ago by Montgomery County District Attorney Risa Vetri Ferman. That was preceded by a seven-month investigation that ended in the grand jury recommending criminal charges.
At the time of the Mondesire investigation, Kane had signed a sworn oath pledging to maintain the documents’ confidentiality.
“She practically admitted releasing the material, so there was no question really about that,” Ledewitz said.
“There was a minor question of intent. Did she know it was illegal? Anybody would. She’s an experienced prosecutor and then she lied about it, so it really was not a difficult case except that perjury is always difficult to prove.”
Kane lasted more than three years in office. In 2015, the Competitive Enterprise Institute ranked her as the nation’s worst state attorney general, providing a list of complaints about the Democrat that included her perjury charge and her awarding of no-bid contracts to campaign contributors.
Kane is not the first judicial officer in the state to succumb to corruption charges.
Twenty-one years earlier, another attorney general, Ernie Preate, resigned his post after pleading guilty to mail fraud in relation to a $20,000 campaign contribution.
In 2009, two Luzerne County judges were charged with accepting $2.6 million in kickbacks from a developer who operated for-profit juvenile facilities. They were sentenced to a combined 45 years in prison in the “kids-for-cash” scandal.
In 2012, state Supreme Court Justice Joan Orie Melvin was found guilty on felony charges following accusations that she had her state-paid Superior Court staff work on her 2009 Supreme Court campaign on state time. It was also alleged that her state senator sister used her staff to help run Melvin’s campaign. Melvin has since agreed to be disbarred in the state.
“The Kane case is different,” Ledewitz said. “This is an abuse of power that hurt an innocent individual. This was really a Richard Nixon-type retaliation action and that’s very unusual.”
Bruce Beemer sworn in as Kane’s replacement
The unanimous confirmation vote on Bruce Beemer came less than two weeks after Gov. Tom Wolf nominated him to head an office racked by infighting and scandal under Kathleen Kane.
Beemer was sworn in privately in Wolf’s offices, with Wolf in attendance on Aug. 30. Beemer told senators he hopes to restore a sense of honor and integrity to Pennsylvania’s top law enforcement office. Work must be done to restore the office’s credibility with the public and other law enforcement agencies, as well as improving morale, Beemer said.
“It’s going to be a challenge, but I look forward to do doing that each and every day,” Beemer told reporters. “It’s going to be sort of like putting building blocks one on top of each other. Every day we’re going to try to make things a little bit better.”
In a statement, Wolf said Beemer has the experience and skillset to begin healing the attorney general’s office, and he is trusted by its rank-and-file employees and understands “better than anyone what must be fixed to restore the public trust.”
One awaiting Beemer is a report commissioned by Kane about offensive emails culled from the agency’s servers.
Beemer would not say whether he would release the report publicly, saying he had not seen it and that people named in it must be afforded due process.
He is expected to fill the remaining five months of Kane’s term until a successor picked by voters in the November election is sworn in Jan. 17.