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Montgomery County DA Ferman to review grand jury report on AG Kane

| Wednesday, April 1, 2015, 12:34 p.m.
Montgomery County District Attorney Risa Vetri Ferman will decide whether to prosecute Pennsylvania Attorney General Kathleen Kane.
Montgomery County District Attorney Risa Vetri Ferman will decide whether to prosecute Pennsylvania Attorney General Kathleen Kane.
Attorney General Kathleen Kane could be charged with crimes recommended by a statewide grand jury, stemming from a leak of secret material to a Philadephia newspaper.
Attorney General Kathleen Kane could be charged with crimes recommended by a statewide grand jury, stemming from a leak of secret material to a Philadephia newspaper.

HARRISBURG — Montgomery County District Attorney Risa Vetri Ferman is under political pressure as she decides whether to charge Attorney General Kathleen Kane with crimes recommended by a statewide grand jury, and the “public wants accountability as well,” a political analyst said.

The Pennsylvania Supreme Court cleared the way for Ferman to file criminal charges related to leaked information in a Philadelphia newspaper story last year about a 2009 grand jury investigation.

The grand jury recommended charging Kane, the first Democrat and woman elected to the office, with perjury, obstruction of justice and official oppression, court records show. Its evidence has not been released.

Ferman said Wednesday that she will “carefully and thoroughly” review the panel's report and determine whether her office needs to investigate independently.

“This is a very serious situation, and she has got to make some very serious decisions,” said George Parry, a former federal and Philadelphia prosecutor.

He and other legal and political analysts predict Ferman, a Republican judicial candidate in the May primary, will face flak from both political parties about charging Kane.

“Republicans will go nuts” if Ferman declines to prosecute, said Parry. “Democrats will say it's slanted” if she does.

In addition to political pressure, “the public wants accountability,” said Kyle Kopko, a political science professor at Elizabethtown College.

Kane denies she broke any laws or did anything wrong.

What happens at the courthouse in Norristown has the potential to affect state politics and, specifically, the 2016 attorney general's race.

“If charges are indeed filed against Kane, it's possible that the attorney general could resign, the General Assembly could begin impeachment proceedings, or Kane could remain in office and fight the charges during the course of a trial,” said Kopko.

Kane's attorney, Lanny Davis, believes in her innocence.

“She never illegally disclosed grand jury-protected information in violation of her oath of secrecy, as required by the state law on grand jury secrecy, and she told the grand jury the truth at all times,” said Davis. He said Kane trusts Ferman “to look at all the evidence fully and fairly.”

Kane in December declared her candidacy for re-election. She has given every indication she will fight, bringing in a New York lawyer and Davis from Washington.

Davis has said Kane will not resign. But if she is indicted and continues to serve, party leaders may decide that's “a drag on the Democratic ticket,” said J. Wesley Leckrone, a political science professor at Widener University in Chester.

Parry, a criminal defense and civil lawyer, said: “I don't see how (Ferman) can ignore these recommendations.”

But she has every right to do so if the recommended charges are not supported by evidence, said William C. Costopoulous, a Lemoyne defense attorney.

Ferman could recuse herself because she is running for judge, Costopoulous said, though he thinks that is unlikely.

The special prosecutor who investigated the case, Thomas Carluccio, is married to Montgomery County Judge Carolyn Carluccio. Another jurist on the bench, William Carpenter, supervised the grand jury. Carluccio is a Norristown defense attorney.

“If (Ferman) decides to prosecute, she does have the cover of the Supreme Court (decision),” said Leckrone.

The high court's 4-1 ruling Tuesday rejected Kane's argument that Carpenter illegally appointed Carluccio. The justices refused to nullify the grand jury report.

Once a Republican stronghold, Montgomery County has a Democratic registration edge, and Democrats have won key races, Leckrone said. That presents a political risk for Ferman, he said, although judicial races typically are “high-name recognition, low-voter information” contests.

How quickly Ferman acts could be influenced by whether she decides an independent investigation is needed and, if so, whether she would need to use a county grand jury. Another grand jury might be needed to compel any uncooperative witnesses to testify, said Jay Abom, a Carlisle defense attorney and former prosecutor.

Brad Bumsted is Trib Total Media's state Capitol reporter. Reach him at 717-787-1405 or bbumsted@tribweb.com.

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