By Kevin Zwick, Capitolwire
One of the two lawmakers who led impeachment proceedings in the mid-1990s has warned a House subcommittee against interfering with the ongoing criminal case against Attorney General Kathleen Kane.
“I’m assuming the D.A. doesn’t want the Judiciary Committee snooping around until they’re done,” said House Minority Leader Frank Dermody, D-Allegheny, who chaired the House Judiciary Committee’s Subcommittee on Courts during the 1994 impeachment of former Supreme Court Justice Rolf Larsen.
Dermody said Larsen had already been convicted by a lower court when the impeachment proceedings began. Larsen, who refused to resign even though he was removed from the bench and convicted, had years left in his judicial term of office, Dermody said.
Kane has announced that she won’t seek re-election, meaning she would be out of office in January 2017. After she leaves office she will no longer be a civil officer and can’t be impeached, Dermody said.
“I have doubts as to whether it’s necessary,” Dermody said, adding it would be difficult to conduct the proceedings within the time frame of Kane leaving office.
Kane is facing criminal charges, including perjury, in Montgomery County. Her trial is scheduled to begin in August. She has said the House impeachment process is premature and should wait until her case is settled in court.
Former Sen. Jeff Piccola, R-Dauphin, who was the ranking Republican House member of the subcommittee and prosecuted the Larsen case along with Dermody, told the subcommittee that there must be a bipartisan consensus before moving forward.
“You simply cannot go into this process without an atmosphere of bipartisanship,” said Piccola. “Both sides have to want to engage in this process … if not, you’re faced with a very difficult time in the Senate.”
A civil officer can only be removed after a two-thirds vote in the Senate following a trial on impeachment in that chamber. Anyone impeached is prohibited from holding public office in the future.
The recent attempt to remove Kane from office for reasonable cause, which failed because proponents couldn’t muster the necessary two-thirds vote in the Senate, shows the risk of not solidifying bipartisan support before moving forward.
Piccola also advised the committee to hire outside counsel to assist with an expansive workload. Philadelphia-based firm Saul Ewing and a small, Wilkes-Barre-based firm were hired to assist during the Larsen impeachment.
“There’s a reason it happens every 150 years,” Dermody said. “…It needs to be reserved for the most extreme cases.”
However, Dermody’s spokesman, Bill Patton, said Larsen had more than four years left on his term when the House committee was investigating him in 1993-94. He would have next stood for retention in 1997.