NORRISTOWN – Former State Attorney General Kathleen Kane received a prison sentence of 10 to 23 months in Montgomery County court on Monday, for revealing confidential details pertinent to a grand jury investigation to retaliate against a political rival and lying about it under oath.
Kane, who resigned her post in August after being convicted on a total of nine criminal counts, including perjury, false swearing, obstructing administration of law and official oppression, had faced a possible maximum term of 12 to 24 years.
Though Kane and her counsel had argued for a sentence consisting only of house arrest or probation, so she could be present to raise her two teenage sons, prosecutors countered Kane’s crimes were “egregious” and warranted a tougher punishment.
Judge Wendy Demchick-Alloy followed the prosecution’s recommendation and imposed the prison sentence. Following the completion of her sentence, Kane will also be on probation for eight years.
Kane will serve her time at the Montgomery County Correctional Facility in Eagleville, but remains free on $75,000 bail while an appeal is pending.
Kane was the first woman and first Democrat to be elected as Pennsylvania’s attorney general in 2012, but Chief Deputy Attorney General Erik Olsen said Kane ultimately undermined the office’s morale “through a pattern of systemic firings and Nixonian espionage.”
In the aftermath of the Penn State University child sex assault case, Kane challenged her predecessor’s handling of that investigation – which led to a rivalry with former chief prosecutor Frank Fina, who oversaw the Penn State case, among others.
The prosecution alleged Kane, embarrassed by a story in The Philadelphia Inquirer which accused her of shutting down a probe of bribery charges against Democratic politicians and a judge in Philadelphia, retaliated against Fina and her predecessors.
Specifically, they accused Kane of leaking confidential information to The Philadelphia Daily News – information connected to a grand jury investigation Fina had been involved with, for embezzlement charges surrounding former Philadelphia NAACP leader, the late J. Whyatt Mondesire.
Kane was accused of leaking the information in order to cause political embarrassment for Fina and later lied about being responsible for the leak under oath. Mondesire was never charged with criminal wrongdoing in the aforementioned embezzlement investigation, and passed away in October of last year.
Kane was officially charged with perjury, false swearing, obstructing administration of law and official oppression in August 2015, 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.
Duquesne University School of Law Professor Bruce Ledewitz indicated perjury in itself is an unusual conviction, and perjury committed by a public official is an even more unusual circumstance.
“It’s not shocking that someone would go to jail because of having disgraced the office and betrayed the trust of the people of Pennsylvania, which is much more serious than the average perjury charge,” Ledewitz said.
Ledewitz added it was both a “tragedy” and “very surprising” that someone like Kane turned to revenge and abusing her power.
“A very, very talented woman and public official with a very, very bright future, has through a series of her own missteps, ended her career and violated the trust of the people of Pennsylvania,” Ledewitz said. “It’s really a mysterious saga why that should have happened.”
Ledewitz further termed the situation as “very disappointing and sad.”
“Nothing in her background explains why she did what she did,” Ledewitz said. “And of course, lying about it was worse than doing it.”
As for Kane’s pending appeal, Ledewitz commented he couldn’t see the grounds for it and labeled the case as “pretty straightforward.”
Moreover, Ledewitz elaborated on how Kane’s tenure at the helm negatively affected the Pennsylvania attorney general’s office in two major ways.
“The [case] testimony suggested at a certain point, the office was so dispirited and distracted that it wasn’t doing its job. That’s not news. I think everybody could see that for a long period of time under Attorney General Kane, the office was A) demoralized, but B), there was no leadership,” Ledewitz said.
“In addition to that, for some reason, other agencies were worried about cooperating with the office,” Ledewitz stated. “And for the FBI and local district attorneys, they were not cooperating with the attorney general’s office the way they usually do.”
Ledewitz said the office now has “a whole different spirit” in the wake of Kane’s departure and conviction.
“I think the office will rapidly return to normal, and for both of the candidates running for attorney general, whoever is elected will continue this healing by all accounts,” Ledewitz said.
Ledewitz advocated for continued vigilance, both in Pennsylvania and throughout the United States at large, in preventing the use of criminal prosecution to punish political enemies.
Ledewitz also concluded the Kane saga has “reinforced what everybody knew”, as it relates to the confidentiality of grand jury investigations and activities.
“You may not distribute or leak the grand jury proceedings, [but] on the other hand, even during her prosecution there were leaks going on,” Ledewitz said. “So I’m not positive that [maintaining confidentiality] will happen, but certainly that’s an important lesson. And the other lesson is the old lesson from Watergate, that the cover-up is worse than the crime.”
From the Pennsylvania Record: Reach Courts Reporter Nicholas Malfitano at firstname.lastname@example.org