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The holding pattern surrounding Kathleen Kane

| Saturday, April 18, 2015, 9:00 p.m.
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HARRISBURG

Gov. Tom Wolf's lame statement on whether embattled Attorney General Kathleen Kane should resign provides a ray of hope to some who work for her and to those who, claiming the office is dysfunctional, would like to see her out.

Kane, a Democrat, maintains she will fight allegations of crimes related to grand jury leaks. She promised to reform Harrisburg and, based on statements by her and her attorneys, believes what's happening is payback.

Wolf, also a Democrat, said the “process should play out.” But was Wolf leaving himself room to eventually broker her ouster? It makes sense to David Taylor, executive director of the Pennsylvania Manufacturers' Association and an outspoken advocate of government reform. By not coming down too harshly now, Wolf could serve as an “honest broker” when the soup thickens as most expect, said Taylor, a Republican.

Taylor would have rather heard Wolf address the need for government integrity. But the governor's position jibes with what legislative leaders of both parties have been saying.

House Majority Leader David Reed, R-Indiana, also said the process should be allowed to run its course.

A statewide grand jury based in Montgomery County has recommended criminal charges — including perjury, obstruction and official oppression — regarding the leak of grand jury material last year to the Philadelphia Daily News about a 2009 case. But those charges are on hold while Montgomery County District Attorney Risa Ferman, a Republican, investigates. Kane denies any wrongdoing.

Meanwhile, William Carpenter, also of Montgomery County and the former supervising judge of the grand jury, will convene a three-judge panel on April 27 to allow Kane to defend herself against a possible contempt of court citation. She fired a top aide who testified before the grand jury that investigated her under a protective order. Kane could go to jail just for that.

But what does “let the process play out” mean?

If the state's top law-enforcement officer is charged, should she remain in office?

Would she be able to function as both the chief prosecutor and a criminal defendant?

Does it mean serving in office through a trial? Some legislators accused of corruption (and eventually convicted) did so.

Given that the conviction isn't final until sentencing, would it be fair to wait until then to leave office? All that could take two years. She also could appeal. Kane also could be acquitted at trial.

Reed, the House majority leader, said upon indictment, if in fact that occurs, the situation should be reconsidered. Reed, though, lauded Kane's work battling drugs.

Kyle Kopko, a political science professor at Elizabethtown College, said Kane could opt to remain in office and defend herself against any criminal charges. “Pennsylvania officials are not compelled to resign if criminal charges are filed; they are presumed innocent until proven guilty just like any other defendant.”

But Kopko said Kane would face “tremendous pressure to resign if formally charged.”

Brad Bumsted is the Trib's state Capitol reporter (717-787-1405 or bbumsted@tribweb.com).

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