Attorney General Kathleen Kane
HARRISBURG – A professor at Duquesne University says state Attorney General Kathleen Kane is likely collecting a paycheck while not being able to perform the duties of her office while her law license is suspended, and that the state Senate has the authority to remove her from office.
Last month, the Pennsylvania Supreme Court suspended Kane’s law license in response to the ongoing investigation of a criminal charge against her for allegedly leaking secret grand jury information and lying about it.
The state Senate has created a committee to decide whether she should be removed from office. During its first meeting, prosecutors said an active law license is needed for just about every aspect of Kane's official duties.
According to Bruce Ledewitz, Associate Dean of Academic Affairs and Professor of Law at Duquesne University, the prosecutors are correct.
“There is no question about that. Everyone who is behind this – all of the district attorneys, all of the experts in legal ethics, everyone agrees that her office involves the practice of law,” Ledewitz told the Pennsylvania Record.
If the Attorney General doesn’t have a license, Ledewitz said, neither do any of the deputy attorneys general who work under her, which creates a problem for state prosecution.
“Every time they are in court, she is court. Once she doesn’t have a license, technically speaking, they don’t either,” Ledewitz said.
“She is sitting there get a paycheck right now, and I think probably is not performing her office.”
Although Kane has questioned the legitimacy of this committee, the controversy doesn’t lie in the Senate’s authority to remove a public official – it lies in the Supreme Court’s decision to suspend Kane in the first place, Ledewitz said.
According to Kane, however, the state Senate does not have the authority to impeach a public official. She cites Article VI Section 4 of the Constitution of the Commonwealth of Pennsylvania, which she says explicitly gives the power of impeachment solely to the House.
Ledewitz pointed out that Kane was “simply ignoring” Article IV Section 7 of the state constitution, which says that “all civil officers elected by the people… shall be removed by the Governor for reasonable cause, after due notice and full hearing, on the address of two-thirds of the Senate.”
On Tuesday afternoon, the Legislative Reference Bureau issued a legal opinion Tuesday afternoon mirroring Ledewitz’s point declaring the committee’s legitimacy.
Kane argues that the Senate cannot remove officials for behaviors that would otherwise lead to their impeachment through the House, such as misbehaviors in office.
However, Ledewitz said that Kane is misjudging the Senate committee’s driving factor behind seeking her removal. According to Ledewitz, the Senate is not seeking removal because she faces criminal charges, but simply because she no longer holds a law license.
“What the Senate is considering is not whether she did anything wrong. The Senate is considering whether she can actually perform the office of Attorney General. As long as her license remains suspended, it could be said that she is unable to perform the office, not because she did anything wrong, simply because her license is suspended,” Ledewitz said.
According to Ledewitz, the problem with the whole situation is not in the Senate’s lack of authority to remove Kane from office. Instead, the problem lies in the Supreme Court’s decision to suspend her law license before she was found guilty by a jury trial.
“I have no sympathy for her. However, it was not fair for the Pennsylvania Supreme Court to suspend her, because we don’t know whether or not she did anything wrong yet,” Ledewitz said.
Despite her questionable sentence, Ledewitz stands by the Senate committee’s push to remove Kane.
“This doesn’t affect the Senate. The Senate could remove her properly. But the Pennsylvania Supreme Court really was not fair to suspend her without a decision by a jury on the charges against her," he said.
The special committee’s report is due to the full Senate on Nov. 25.