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MC  Kathleen Kane

Attorney General Kathleen Kane contracted with Maryland’s former top law enforcement officer to pour over thousands of illicit emails, giving full subpoena and grand jury power to look for violations of criminal, civil or ethics law.

Taking the stage at the National Constitution Center in Philadelphia, Kane believes she has the authority to make the appointment, and issued a warning to those who disagree: “And to the few who challenge it, including some members of my own staff, I pose a simple, three-pronged question: Are you a white male? Are you or one of your buddies in this email network? Are you trying to get my job without the benefit of having to run for it and being chosen by the people of Pennsylvania?”

Doug Gansler, the former attorney general of Maryland now of the law firm BuckleySandler LLP, was appointed to lead a team of investigators and has “the sword of prosecutorial powers to do so,” said Kane, the embattled first-term Democrat. She is facing several criminal charges for allegedly leaking grand jury material and lying about it under oath and had her law license suspended in October.

“You would imagine the way you create a team is by delegating your own authority to prosecute, but she doesn’t have the authority to prosecute,” said Bruce Ledewitz, a law professor at Duquesnse University School of Law. “It would seem she would be precluded, but no one could say for sure because we are in uncharted waters with everything she does.”

Gansler, a Democrat, isn’t licensed to practice law in Pennsylvania. In 2003 he was formally reprimanded by the Maryland Court of Appeals for making extrajudicial remarks to the media when he was the Montgomery County State’s Attorney during some high-profile investigations. Those remarks “had a substantial likelihood of depriving several criminal defendants of fair trials,” according to Maryland Judge Lynne Battaglia, who wrote the court opinion. Gansler has said the reprimand was in retaliation for his criticism of a Montgomery County judge.

He and his team will conduct a wide-ranging investigation into emails that are demeaning to minorities, women, the LGBT community and religious groups, and were sent or received by judges, prosecutors, defense attorneys and law enforcement officials on government computers, Kane said.

The scope of the investigation is “intentionally broad because we don’t know what’s in there,” Gansler said. “We are there to look at the facts and only the facts and where ever they take us.”

He later added, “I think there’s ample reason to believe that, based on what has been released to the public, based on the fact that public officials have lost their jobs, resigned their jobs, based on the representation made by people who have seen the emails … that this is far more than a fishing expedition.”

The firm will be paid by OAG funds.

Kane is currently managing the Office of Attorney General without a valid law license, but has delegated some authority to her deputies, including wiretap authority. Other duties are being “executed” by First Deputy Bruce Beemer as the office potentially faces a “myriad of legal challenges” from defense lawyers challenging the authority of the office.

Gansler said appointing special prosecutors is “by definition not practicing law because she is saying ‘you guys will be practicing law, I’m doing my administrative function.’”

However, it could lead to legal challenges.

“The special prosecutors will begin by investigating,” Ledewitz said. “If at some point they act like prosecutors, either by seeking a warrant or filing criminal charges, the object of those actions will challenge their authority.”

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email pornGov. Tom Corbett says a review of State Police Commissioner Frank Noonan’s state-email account “indicates that he did not participate in opening, originating, forwarding or replying to any message” the Office of Attorney General said contained sexually explicit and pornographic material.

Noonan received hundreds of emails that were passed between several former top aides to then-Attorney General Corbett from 2008 to 2012.

“He got everything, but sent nothing,” said OAG spokeswoman Renee Martin of Noonan.

The Office of Attorney General initially said it would not release the information contained in emails after several Pennsylvania media outlets filed Right-To-Know requests. However, a day later Kane’s office allowed reporters to review pictures and videos that her office says were part of a series of hundreds of explicit emails sent by several men who worked under Corbett.

The releasing of information has been done largely piecemeal, leading to charges of bias. Kane is the first Democrat to hold the office since it became an elected position in 1980. The eight men – only a portion of a larger group of individuals, some of which are reportedly current OAG employees, to have received or sent such emails – named by Kane’s office were hired under past Republican administrations.

“I call upon the Attorney General to release to the public, in a complete and unbiased manner, all of the information on all individuals associated with this issue. Such action is in the best interest of the public and will serve to regain trust in those who work in public service,” Corbett said.

Noonan is currently heading up one of the largest manhunts in state police history as local, state and federal law enforcement officials scour the northern Monroe and southern Pike counties for Eric Frein, the prime suspect in the ambush of two state police officers two weeks ago. One officer died.

“It is important that Commissioner Noonan remain focused on the critical public safety mission he is leading in the manhunt for Eric Frein and that there is no disruption in the work underway in this case,” Corbett said in the statement.

On Oct. 2, Department of Environmental Protection Secretary Christopher Abruzzo resigned after the governor’s office reviewed emails containing text – some sexually explicit. OAG said he received 46 emails and sent eight.

In a resignation letter, Abruzzo said he had “no recollection” of sending emails, but took full responsibility for his actions in 2009.

During that same examination of emails, Corbett’s office reviewed emails sent by DEP Deputy General Counsel Glenn Parno, AG Corbett’s former chief deputy attorney general for environmental crimes. The governor also accepted his resignation on Oct. 2. OAG said he received 178 and sent 10.

Corbett’s office reviewed information about Abruzzo, Parno and Noonan but is expecting to review more in the very near future. Randy Feathers, a former investigator in Corbett’s OAG who now sits on the Pennsylvania Board of Probation and Parole, also was named by Kane’s OAG as having sent hundreds of explicit emails.

Corbett has said he was unaware that close aides were sending explicit emails on state email accounts. He denounced the activity, which, while not illegal, is prohibited by an OAG policy instituted by Corbett when he was attorney general.

“As I have said, I do not condone or tolerate comments or behavior degrading to individuals, written or otherwise. This type of activity does not belong in the workplace and I find it inexcusable,” he said in a statement.

Martin said OAG will release another batch of email for Feathers, Patrick Blessington, a former OAG staffer now prosecutor in the Philadelphia District Attorney’s Office, Rick Sheetz, a former executive attorney general who now works for the Lancaster District Attorney, and former Corbett spokesman Kevin Harley.

–Kevin Zwick, Capitolwire

 

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