Former Gov. Ed Rendell told the Senate panel scrutinizing Attorney General Kathleen Kane it would be “chaos” if they removed her from office before the state Supreme Court, with its three new Democratic members, rules on reinstating her law license.
Rendell pleaded for them to back away from the direct removal method. Although agreeing the Senate has the authority, he suggested another path.
“Guys,” he said, abruptly adjusting, “Senators, impeach her. Don’t use this method.”
Rendell said the Senate should wait until after the state’s high court rules on an emergency petition Kane filed Jan. 12. There is “almost an entirely new Supreme Court from the one that suspended her” license, Rendell said, before posing a hypothetical: what were to happen if this committee recommend that she be removed and the Supreme Court decided to reinstate her license?
“Would we have to come back to the Senate for action? How do you defend your position? Are you removing her as long as her license remains suspended?” Rendell said. “It’s a very difficult question because she’s going before a new court, (with) at least three judges who haven’t heard this issue before. I would urge you not to take action at all, but certainly not to take action until the Supreme Court has ruled on her request.”
The committee has 15 days to complete a report recommending future actions on removal.
Kane is arguing the high court’s unanimous ruling to temporarily suspend her law license was tainted by the participation of Justice Michael Eakin. A bit more than three months after the ruling on Kane’s license suspension, Eakin was temporarily suspended with pay by a disciplinary tribunal over controversial private emails.
With Eakin temporarily suspended, the six-seat high court’s makeup is now five Democrats, three of which were sworn in last week, and one Republican, the chief justice.
Rendell, who served as district attorney of Philadelphia from 1978 to 1986 and Philadelphia mayor in the 1990s, also testified that during his tenure leading the largest D.A.’s office in Pennsylvania he mostly made policy, public relations, or enforcement decisions, while leaving legal decisions up to his staff attorneys. While this was to show that Kane can perform the duties of her office without a valid law license, he admitted some of his decisions were made with both legal and policy considerations.
At one point, Rendell and committee chairman Sen. John Gordner, R-Columbia, clashed when the former governor asserted the committee is trying to remove Kane over her conduct in office, not her license suspension, so they should impeach her. Kane is facing several criminal charges in Montgomery County stemming from an alleged leak of grand jury material to a Philadelphia newspaper, covering it up and lying about it under oath. She denies any wrongdoing.
“Would we be having these hearings if someone had a suspended license because they didn’t fulfill their C.L.E. requirements? Of course not,” Rendell said. “You’re having these hearings because of the other things Kathleen Kane is charged with doing. Do it the right way. Impeach her if that’s what you believe.”
“That’s apples and oranges, governor,” Gordner said.
“No, it’s not apples and oranges. It’s a suspended license,” Rendell said.
Rendell’s approach to interacting with the committee was almost gladiatorial, creating a noticeable contrast to the previous two hours when the committee grilled Kane’s chief of staff, Jonathan Duecker, who had at least one heated exchange with Senate President Pro Tem Joe Scarnati, R-Jefferson.
Duecker, who described himself as an “objective loyalist” to Kane, said he was testifying to give a different perspective on the office’s functions compared to the testimony provided by four of the Office of Attorney General’s top lawyers in November.
“The practice of law is narrow to all the other things we do in the office,” he said. “I’m not part of any of the three legal divisions within the office. I am in charge of, at the direction of the Attorney General, everything else. So I get to see things, frankly, that our attorneys have historically never seen, never want to see, never ask to see, were not interested in seeing. I can’t answer why they don’t understand or don’t see what the full scope of authorities, responsibilities and duties are for the office in general.”
He pointed to the Supreme Court’s suspension order which specifically mentioned the order was not removing her from office. Duecker argued the wording showed the court “understands and recognizes her vast responsibilities outside of the practice of law.”