Matthew T. Mangino
February 20, 2015
Pennsylvania is in the midst of a constitutional crisis. Kathleen Kane, the state’s attorney general, is currently embroiled in an ever-widening scandal.
Kane’s election was a watershed moment in Pennsylvania politics. In 1980, the attorney general position in Pennsylvania went from an appointed office to an elected office with Kane becoming the first woman and first Democrat elected attorney general.
Kane is now facing possible charges including perjury, false swearing, official oppression and obstruction of justice relating to grand jury secrets she allegedly disclosed to the media.
The investigation into Kane surfaced last fall when The Philadelphia Inquirer reported that a statewide grand jury was looking into the publication of secret grand jury records related to a 2009 attorney general’s office investigation of Philadelphia’s NAACP.
The grand jury’s presiding judge appointed a special prosecutor, Thomas Carluccio, to look into the leak. Kane has challenged the authority of special prosecutor. Kane wants Carluccio’s appointment declared unlawful and the grand jury’s report vacated. In the meantime, the Pennsylvania Supreme Court put a hold on criminal charges against Kane until the court decides the authority of the special prosecutor. The Supreme Court is scheduled to hear the case on March 11.
The grand jury report issued in December said there were reasonable grounds to charge Kane. Before the grand jury report was officially released, the recommended charges were leaked to the media. The Inquirer cited anonymous sources in reporting that the grand jury had recommended charges against Kane and the matter was referred to the Montgomery County district attorney.
Soon after, two Inquirer journalists were subpoenaed in an effort to determine who had leaked the information to the newspaper. The grand jury was now investigating a leak of grand jury information from a grand jury investigating a leak.
In anticipation of the Supreme Court’s review of the special prosecutor’s authority, Judge William Carpenter, who sits as the supervising judge of the statewide investigating grand jury and appointed the special prosecutor investigating Kane, wrote a court opinion.
Judge Carpenter wrote, “Attorney General Kane should not be granted such monumental relief simply because she is the attorney general … No other citizen would be granted such relief, and citizen Kane (emphasis added) should be treated no better than any other citizen.”
To use another cinematic allusion it appears the attorney general is the casualty of a Kane mutiny. A recent set of court filings revealed that the investigation of Kane was initiated by longtime state prosecutors Frank Fina and E. Marc Costanzo.
According to the Harrisburg Patriot-News, Fina and Costanzo wrote Judge Carpenter on May 8, 2014, alerting him to a call they’d received the day before from a Philadelphia Daily News reporter outlining information from a 2009 grand jury case.
The problems between Fina and Kane are now legend around the state capitol. Although a Penn State-Sandusky investigation led by Fina and reviewed by Kane found no political influence, it did uncover an email pornography scandal in the attorney general’s office. The porn scandal brought down a Pennsylvania Supreme Court justice, a member of former Gov. Tom Corbett’s cabinet and a member of the Board of Probation and Parole.
Kane then dropped a Fina-led investigation into political corruption in Philadelphia. Fina’s new boss, Philadelphia District Attorney Seth Williams, picked up the investigation and has successfully pursued several prosecutions.
Now, the state Supreme Court has requested yet another investigation. This investigation is looking into the disclosure of an order of court that was issued as part of the stay of criminal charges against Kane.
Recently unsealed documents in the case show the state Supreme Court has called on the state Office of Disciplinary Counsel to investigate the disclosure of a previously sealed court order. Media outlets, including Patriot-News and The Inquirer, have reported that this time, Kane’s attorney, Lanny Davis, is the apparent subject of the investigation.
The plot thickens as the criminal justice system in Pennsylvania sputters under a cloud of intrigue and deception.
Matthew T. Mangino is of counsel with Luxenberg, Garbett, Kelly & George. His book, “The Executioner’s Toll, 2010,” was released by McFarland Publishing. You can reach him at mattmangino.com and follow him on Twitter at @MatthewTMangino.