Memo from deputy hints at revolt in attorney general's office
Attorney General Kathleen Kane's top deputy on Thursday sent a memo to the agency's lawyers rejecting Kane's justification for publicly releasing private emails, such as those of a former grand jury judge she requested be removed from his position.
The memo from First Deputy Bruce Beemer, a copy of which was obtained by the Tribune-Review, was the first sign a revolt might be under way among senior staffers. Concern has been growing among career professionals in Kane's office since her law license suspension became effective last week. The suspension left Beemer the highest-ranking person in the agency with an active law license.
Kane, in an email to reporters, contended that she was within her rights to release the emails between a Northumberland County judge, his lawyers, two reporters and a former state prosecutor because they were no longer private after they were “captured” by an Office of Attorney General server.
“That statement is wrong,” Beemer wrote in the memo. Executive Deputy Attorneys General James A. Donahue III, Robert A. Mulle and Lawrence Cherba signed the memo.
“The Office of Attorney General is bound by the Rules of Professional Conduct, various statutes and other legal privileges to keep all communications with clients and co-counsel, related to grand jury matters, and even communications with opposing counsel, confidential,” the memo states.
“Communications involving victims, witnesses and criminal justice agencies similarly are not public, and their disclosure could compromise prosecutions,” it states. “The Office of Attorney General, its support staff and its investigators must maintain their confidentiality obligations.”
Beemer, a former assistant district attorney in Allegheny County who has handled hundreds of trials, said, “Personal communications about private protected matters are private and not subject to disclosure to the public.”
Kane on Wednesday publicly released emails that Senior Northumberland Judge Barry Feudale accidentally sent to the account of former Chief Deputy Attorney General Frank Fina in July 2014. Fina had quit the office more than six months earlier, but his account remained open.
“Mr. Fina's email account was still active because, although he had left the office, there were ongoing cases with which he had been involved,” Kane spokesman Chuck Ardo said.
The emails show Feudale discussing leaking a confidential order removing him as grand jury judge. Kane had petitioned the state Supreme Court for that order.
Kane defended the release in an email.
“Any email sent to an email account in the Office of Attorney General, whether from a private or public email account, is not considered a private communication once it is captured by an OAG (Office of Attorney General) server,” Kane's email states.
Beemer's rebuke followed charges from Feudale's lawyer, Sam Stretton, that Kane broke the law.
“Her conduct is illegal, going back and searching for a grand jury judge's emails,” Stretton said.
He plans to file a motion with Grand Jury Judge Norman Krumenacker III to stop her. “She just needs to be stopped now. She is destroying our system of justice.”
The Supreme Court suspended Kane's law license after she was charged with perjury, obstruction of justice and official oppression for allegedly leaking secret court documents to reporters and then lying about it under oath. The complaint accused her and her security agent of engaging in a “cloak-and-dagger” campaign to silence her critics.
Kane has said that 98 percent of her job is administrative, and only 2 percent requires a law license.
A special Senate committee was formed to explore whether Kane can continue as attorney general without a law license. On Thursday, it launched its website, which will accept public comments.
Kane released Feudale's emails a day after The Philadelphia Inquirer reported that her campaign aide was shopping copies of the messages to news media.
Asked why Kane held on to evidence of what she believes is illegal activity for up to two years, Ardo said, “The Attorney General believes the emails were forwarded to the (Judicial Conduct Board) within a reasonable amount of time from their discovery.”
The emails were discovered “a while ago, but I don't have an exact date,” he said.
Feudale on Wednesday accused Kane of being behind the theft of three of his files while he was serving as grand jury judge in an office space several floors below the Attorney General's Office in Harrisburg. Feudale called Capitol Police to report the theft at 12:15 p.m. May 17, 2013, according to a police dispatch report.
Police stayed for 45 minutes and found no evidence of a break-in at the office, which Kane leases and which is staffed with her employees. It's unclear how long the entire investigation lasted, but police eventually turned their investigative files over to Kane's office, said Troy Thompson, spokesman for the Department of General Services, which oversees the Capitol Police.
What happened next has emerged as a key point of contention in the latest battle between Kane and her critics.
“There was no formal investigation as Judge Feudale told OAG (Office of Attorney General) agents assisting him in removing personal property from his office that he may have taken the files in question home and would look for them there,” Ardo said.
Not so, said Stretton.
“There's no question Judge Feudale was concerned about things taken from his office and asked for a full investigation, and that never occurred,” Stretton said.
Kyle Kopko, political science professor at Elizabethtown College, said it would be “an inherent conflict of interest for the attorney general's office to investigate its own wrongdoing. The FBI or a federal agency should be brought in since it involves an act of alleged official corruption.”
Brad Bumsted and Mike Wereschagin are Trib Total Media staff writers.