NORRISTOWN - Kathleen Kane, the former attorney general of Pennsylvania who recently resigned after being found guilty of perjury, won't spend much time in prison, but she likely won't be practicing law for a long time - if ever again - a Duquesne University law professor says.
Kane was convicted Aug. 15 on two counts of felony perjury, as well as a series of misdemeanor charges by a unanimous 12-person jury. She was accused of leaking grand jury documents in a 2009 embezzlement investigation of J. Whyatt Mondesire, a journalist and former head of the Philadelphia branch of the NAACP who passed away in October.
Kane allegedly leaked the secret documents to the Philadelphia Daily News in an attempt to embarrass another prosecutor.
Her felony charges are directly related to her testimony to a grand jury that focused on whether she knew about the leaked information. During the trial, a witness gave testimony that Kane gave a direct order to release the documents.
Since the conviction, Kane has resigned from office and is awaiting sentencing, which is scheduled to occur in mid-November. Kane is facing the maximum of 28 years in prison for the offense, although sentencing guidelines in Pennsylvania dictate a lighter sentence.
“She resigned, which I think the judge will take into account,” said Bruce Ledewitz, professor of law at Duquesne University. “On the other hand, judges really hate perjury by elected officials.
"I think the judge will feel that some kind of incarceration is probably necessary, but I imagine it would be a short period. She doesn’t have a record or anything like that, but perjury is a pretty serious crime.”
While the charges and penalty will certainly impact Kane’s reputation, her legal career may also be over. She will certainly face suspension or disbarment.
“The only question is whether it will be a longtime suspension or an actual disbarment – that I don’t know,” Ledewitz said. “It will be one or the other. She won’t practice law for a very long time, if ever.”
Her law license had already been temporarily suspended, leading to an awkward situation in which the state's top lawyer couldn't practice law.
She was officially charged a year ago by Montgomery County District Attorney Risa Vetri Ferman. That was preceded by a seven-month investigation that ended in the grand jury recommending criminal charges.
At the time of the Mondesire investigation, Kane had signed a sworn oath pledging to maintain the documents' confidentiality.
“She practically admitted releasing the material, so there was no question really about that,” Ledewitz said.
“There was a minor question of intent. Did she know it was illegal? Anybody would. She’s an experienced prosecutor and then she lied about it, so it really was not a difficult case except that perjury is always difficult to prove.”
Kane lasted more than three years in office. In 2015, the Competitive Enterprise Institute ranked her as the nation's worst state attorney general, providing a list of complaints about the Democrat that included her perjury charge and her awarding of no-bid contracts to campaign contributors.
Kane hired the Cohen Milstein firm to investigate nursing homes after receiving a $10,000 donation.
Kane is certainly not the only judicial officer in the state to succumb to corruption charges.
Twenty-one years earlier, another attorney general, Ernie Preate, resigned his post after pleading guilty to mail fraud in relation to a $20,000 campaign contribution.
In 2009, two Luzerne County judges were charged with accepting $2.6 million in kickbacks from a developer who operated for-profit juvenile facilities. They were sentenced to a combined 45 years in prison in the "kids-for-cash" scandal.
In 2012, state Supreme Court Justice Joan Orie Melvin was found guilty on felony charges following accusations that she had her state-paid Superior Court staff work on her 2009 Supreme Court campaign on state time.
It was also alleged that her state senator sister used her staff to help run Melvin's campaign.
Melvin has since agreed to be disbarred in the state.
“Kane is different,” Ledewitz said. “This is an abuse of power that hurt an innocent individual. This was really a Richard Nixon-type retaliation action and that’s very unusual.
"Pennsylvania politics are generally not like that. I have no explanation for it. I have absolutely nothing in my opinion of Kane’s background that would have predicted she would behave this way very quickly after assuming office.
"This has not been a problem in Pennsylvania, I’m happy to say. We don’t play this kind of hardball politics and she was the exception. It’s good that she is gone because she was dangerous.”
It is unknown if Kane was offered a plea deal prior to the trial, but with the conviction and pending sentencing, it may have been in her best interest to take it, he said. Kane has said she plans to appeal the conviction.
“You have to assume one was offered because they investigated the case forever,” Ledewitz said. “You have to assume that a deal was offered that she would resign and take a minor punishment, but we don’t know for sure that was offered. She should have taken it.”