Senators have sharp words for Kane aide at hearing
January 13, 2016 12:12 AM
Matt Rourke / Associated Press
Pennsylvania Attorney General Kathleen Kane
By Karen Langley / Post-Gazette Harrisburg Bureau
HARRISBURG — A hearing Tuesday that was part of a Senate process to potentially remove Attorney General Kathleen Kane featured tense moments as Republican senators appeared to grow frustrated with her chief of staff, who insisted the office is running smoothly.
Later in the hearing, former Gov. Ed Rendell gave high-profile support to the idea that the Senate should not try to remove Ms. Kane from office.
After the state Supreme Court suspended Ms. Kane’s law license effective Oct. 22 following criminal charges against her, the Senate formed a special committee to examine how the suspension would affect the attorney general’s ability to do her job. The committee held hearings in November featuring Ms. Kane’s top deputies, among others who testified.
The Senate then voted unanimously to proceed with the hearing Tuesday under a little-used constitutional provision that allows it and the governor to remove officeholders.
Ms. Kane declined to appear at the hearing. In a letter to the committee Monday, she reiterated her position that the Senate lacks authority to remove her from office except through impeachment, a mechanism that would require action by both legislative chambers.
At the hearing Tuesday, Senate President Pro Tem Joe Scarnati, R-Jefferson, raised his voice as he addressed chief of staff Jonathan Duecker.
“You can’t have it both ways,” he said. “You can’t be this effective, worldly, well-respected attorney general with all these great appointments and positions, defending the constitution, defending everybody in this commonwealth, but you don’t come to work, nobody knows what you’re doing” — Mr. Duecker interjected, but Mr. Scarnati continued — “she can’t make the decisions, and if she is making the decisions, it’s a violation of the law, with her suspended law license.”
Committee Chairman John Gordner, R-Columbia, pointed out that Mr. Duecker was unable to answer questions by members about Ms. Kane’s daily activities or whether there was a written plan for how the office would carry on after her law license was suspended.
“I’m getting very amazed,” Mr. Gordner said. “So you don’t know what her direct schedule is day to day and you would not have known if there was any written document in regard to direction as to legal actions after Oct. 22.”
Later, Mr. Duecker said that Ms. Kane gave “clear, unambiguous direction that the office will continue as it did beforehand.” He said that meant the vast majority of legal decisions would be made by deputies or lower-ranking staff.
Mr. Duecker told the committee that a large portion of the responsibilities of the attorney general are not affected by the license suspension. In written testimony, he cited the attorney general’s role representing the office to local, state, federal and international law enforcement, as well as her policy initiatives and efforts to restructure the office.
“She’s the chief officer for every aspect of the office,” he said at the hearing. “When she has a law license, then she’s the chief legal officer. When she doesn’t, that doesn’t negate all of the other positions and responsibilities that she holds as the attorney general.”
When Mr. Rendell took his turn, he told the panel he was not appearing in order to support Ms. Kane. But he said he would advise the Senate not to remove her from office on the basis of the license suspension. Drawing a parallel with the position of attorney general, Mr. Rendell said that in his years as Philadelphia district attorney, the vast majority of his work was not the practice of law.
“Well over 95 percent of my duties were administrative or policy-setting or communications, PR and outreach,” he said. “In none of those functions did I act as a lawyer. I acted as an elected official. I acted as a policymaker.”
He said that if the panel believes the attorney general’s conduct was “egregious,” it should pursue impeachment.
Ms. Kane filed a petition Tuesday saying the license suspension was flawed by the participation of Justice Michael Eakin, who since has been suspended from the court. She asked for the license to be reinstated. Ms. Kane’s attorney, James Mundy, said Tuesday evening that he had received no response from the court.
After the hearing, Mr. Gordner said the committee will issue a report within 15 days.
Karen Langley: email@example.com or 717-787-2141.
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