NORRISTOWN, Pa. (Legal Newsline) - Pennsylvania Attorney General Kathleen Kane was charged Thursday with obstruction of justice and other crimes for her role in allegedly leaking confidential material to the media.
Montgomery County District Attorney Risa Vetri Ferman said in a news release that, based on the evidence collected, Kane “personally orchestrated” the leak -- which included investigative information and secret grand jury material -- through a “political operative” for the purpose of retaliating against former state prosecutors “whom she believed had embarrassed her in the press.”
Kane maintains she is innocent, and plans to fight the charges.
“The evidence demonstrates that the defendant undertook these illegal acts without regard to either the laws of the Commonwealth of Pennsylvania and the damage such disclosure of confidential information might cause to an individual who has not been charged with a crime,” Ferman said.
“Moreover, the evidence shows that Attorney General Kane undertook these actions seeking vengeance and retribution against other law enforcement professionals.”
The district attorney charged Kane with obstructing administration of law or other governmental function; official oppression; criminal conspiracy; perjury; and false swearing.
Judge William R. Carpenter, serving as supervising judge of a statewide investigating grand jury, appointed a special prosecutor in May 2014 to look into allegations that grand jury secrecy may have been compromised.
After a nearly seven-month-long investigation, the investigating grand jury in December recommended that criminal charges be filed by Ferman’s office against the attorney general. Carpenter issued an order accepting the recommendation and referring the matter to Ferman’s office soon after.
Kane, hoping to have the appointment of the special prosecutor quashed, pursued a quo warranto action -- used to test a person’s legal right to hold an office -- with the state Supreme Court.
In March, after initially staying any prosecution by the district attorney’s office, the Supreme Court denied Kane’s request for relief.
Following the court’s decision, Ferman’s office reviewed the recommendation and supporting evidence, and determined that an independent investigation was warranted.
Ferman concluded that when compelled to appear as a witness before the investigating grand jury, Kane attempted to cover up her wrongdoing by offering “dishonest testimony.”
The district attorney said Thursday the attorney general deliberately attempted to deceive the grand jury regarding both her conduct and legal culpability, abusing her power.
“A prosecutor has the responsibility of a minister of justice. When someone entrusted with the solemn obligation to uphold the law deliberately violates the same laws she is sworn to uphold, we are all victims of this breach of the public trust,” Ferman said. “When an elected official betrays the confidence and trust placed in her by the public, we must do everything in our power to hold her accountable.
“The laws of our Commonwealth protect all her citizens and as citizens we can expect those who have the obligation to enforce the laws to abide by their mandates. This investigation and the charges filed today show, beyond all doubt, that no one is above the law; not even the Chief Law Enforcement Officer of the Commonwealth.”
Ferman said Kane is expected to surrender to authorities and will be arraigned before Magisterial District Judge Cathleen Kelly Rebar “at a date and time to be scheduled.”
Kane said in a statement soon after the charges were filed that she was “disappointed” the district attorney decided to pursue the case.
“I have maintained my innocence from the day these allegations surfaced and I continue to do so today,” she said.
The attorney general, who also has raised some eyebrows with her connections to plaintiffs law firm Cohen Milstein Sellers & Toll PLLC, said she plans to defend herself “vigorously” against the charges.
“I look forward to the opportunity to present my case in a public courtroom and move beyond the behind-the-scenes maneuvering that has defined the process to this point,” she said.
“Meanwhile, I remain committed to leading the Office of Attorney General and doing the job the citizens of this Commonwealth elected me to do. A resignation would be an admission of guilt and I’m not guilty.”
Ferman also filed a charge of indirect criminal contempt against Patrick R. Reese, who is employed as a supervisory special agent for the Attorney General’s Office, serving on the executive protection detail and as Kane’s driver.
According to the district attorney’s office, Reese is charged with violating a protective order issued by Carpenter by secretly accessing confidential grand jury information related to the leak investigation while the special prosecutor’s investigation was ongoing.
The cases will be prosecuted by a team led by First Assistant District Attorney Kevin R. Steele and Special First Assistant District Attorney Michelle Henry, the current first assistant district attorney of Bucks County and former Bucks County district attorney.
From Legal Newsline: Reach Jessica Karmasek by email at firstname.lastname@example.org.