Pa. AG Kane says she won't testify at Senate removal hearing

Pennsylvania Attorney General Kathleen Kane
Pennsylvania Attorney General Kathleen Kane
Photo by AP
| Wednesday, Jan. 6, 2016, 1:45 p.m.

HARRISBURG — Pennsylvania Attorney General Kathleen Kane is not expected to testify Tuesday at a Senate hearing about her potential removal from office, a spokesman said.

The special bipartisan Senate panel considering her removal will proceed whether or not she takes the opportunity to defend herself, its chairman said Wednesday.

“We will have a hearing Tuesday,” said Committee Chairman John Gordner, R-Bloomsburg. A resolution outlining procedures of removal under an obscure constitutional provision requires Kane be given an opportunity to speak, Gordner said.

“This is her opportunity to defend her case and have a fair hearing,” said Senate Republican spokeswoman Jennifer Kocher.

“She's preparing a response at this point, but she is not expected to appear,” said her spokesman Chuck Ardo.

Kane, 49, is the first woman and Democrat to hold the elected office of attorney general. The Senate is controlled by Republicans.

Kane, of Scranton, faces 12 criminal charges, including two felony perjury counts, in Montgomery County. The state Supreme Court in October suspended her from the practice of law.

Kane maintains her innocence and challenges the validity of the Senate effort.

“She does not believe there are grounds for removal, and she doesn't believe the votes are there for removal to proceed,” Ardo said.

Kane has called the Senate process unconstitutional.

“Given the position she has taken from the beginning, I would be very surprised to see her appear personally,” said Bruce Antkowiak, a law professor at St. Vincent College near Latrobe. That could be construed as validating the Senate process she opposes, he said.

“Forget about the specifics. It's generally rare for criminal defense attorneys to allow their clients to testify,” Antkowiak said. “They're going to get cross-examined. They are going to get hammered.”

Kane isn't expected to “undertake any sort of litigation at this point,” Ardo said.

But that could come later if there's a removal vote, given her statements rejecting use of this constitutional provision. Kane maintains impeachment is the only valid removal provision for an attorney general, but only after a criminal conviction.

Although the Senate effort doesn't focus on her criminal case, the hearing “could be pretty free-wheeling” if she testified, Antkowiak said. Anything substantive could potentially be used against her in her criminal case, he said.

“Frankly, it's unknown” whether the committee will recommend removal and whether the full Senate will consider a vote, Gordner said.

Kane has until noon Monday to submit any statement, Gordner said. If she fails to respond, the Senate resolution provides three more days after the hearing to submit her testimony, he said. The committee must then submit a report to the full Senate in 15 days.

The Senate decides at that time whether the full chamber will vote, Kocher said.

If her removal is considered by the Senate, a two-thirds vote is required in the 50-member chamber. That would require 33 votes if all 30 GOP senators vote for removing her. A vote could come by early February. Senate officials say they have received no notice about how Kane intends to proceed.

Though some have speculated whether Kane will take legal action to attempt to block the hearing, Ardo said, “I have heard of no attempt to undertake any sort of litigation at this point.”

The criminal charges stem from an alleged grand jury leak by Kane to embarrass an ex-state prosecutor with whom she feuded. Prosecutors claim she then lied and attempted to cover it up.

Brad Bumsted is the Tribune-Review's state Capitol reporter. Reach him at 717-787-1405 and bbumsted@tribweb.com.

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