Pennsylvania's Wild Justice: The Perils of a Rising Star


The English philosopher Sir Francis Bacon (1561-1626), once wrote “Revenge is a kind of wild justice.” In the modern era of Pennsylvania politics. Justice has indeed been wild.

In the last decade, the state has seen a Supreme Court justice convicted; her sister, a state senator, imprisoned; and two House Speakers and minority leaders in the House and Senate jailed. A host of legislators have left in disgrace. Last month, State Treasure Rob McCord resigned with the intent to plead guilty to federal criminal charges, and in the 1990s a Republican Attorney General went to prison.

Now, in that spirit of “wild justice, the knives are out for Kathleen Kane, the first female (and first Democrat) elected in 34 years as state Attorney General. Prominent members of Kane's own Democratic party are aligning themselves to take her job. Those hopefuls are not talking about a 2016 primary challenge: they are wooing Pennsylvania Governor Tom Wolf for a possible appointment.

Philadelphia District Attorney Seth Williams told the New York Times, “I have a great job in Philadelphia…(But) if the governor called me, I'd have to think about it.”

Kane, once the rising star of Pennsylvania politics, is in a steep dive. Her tenure could soon end with a resignation, conviction or impeachment.

Editors Note: for the latest report on the Kane case, See “Who Has the Authority to Investigate?” in Pennsylvania's Morning Call?

Kane, a one-time assistant district attorney in Lackawanna County, ran an interesting campaign for attorney general. She was funded significantly by her husband, a successful businessman, from whom she has since filed for divorce.

The cornerstone of her campaign was the pledge to review the investigation of Jerry Sandusky, the former Penn State football assistant who was convicted of sexually assaulting young boys on campus. The original investigation tarnished the mystique of Penn State football and brought down football legend Joe Paterno.

Now, Kane wants Pennsylvanians to believe that the Penn State investigation is the reason why a group of “angry men” is trying to bring her down.

The second investigation of Penn State led to nothing. But the special investigator hired by Kane to look into the matter uncovered the pervasive distribution of pornographic emails within the AG's office—justice gone wild. The emails led to the firing of a cabinet member and the resignation of a Supreme Court justice and a member of the Board of Probation and Parole.

Kane also became embroiled in a public feud with Frank Fina, a senior assistant attorney general, who resigned when Kane was elected. Fina had oversight responsibilities for the Sandusky investigation. Fina subsequently took a job with Williams in the Philadelphia DA's office.

When Kane discontinued an investigation of Philadelphia political corruption overseen in the AG's Office by Fina, Williams decided to pick-up the investigation. The acerbic public discourse between Williams and Kane was embarrassing; however, to Williams' credit, the revived investigation has resulted in several guilty pleas.

Then, in May, Montgomery County Judge William Carpenter appointed special prosecutor Thomas Carluccio to oversee a grand jury investigating whether Kane leaked secret grand jury information to a Philadelphia newspaper in an effort to embarrass a former prosecutor from her office. Kane was presumably seeking some revenge against Fina.

The grand jury voted in December to recommend that the district attorney charge Kane with 12 counts, including obstruction, perjury and false swearing. Ironically, the investigation into leaking grand jury information was leaked to the media.

Can justice get any more wild in Pennsylvania?

Sure, the Pennsylvania Supreme Court stepped in and stopped any action until the court hears arguments regarding Kane's challenge to the appointment of the special prosecutor.

Kane has argued that there is no statute in the state that would allow a judge's “unilateral selection and appointment of a special prosecutor to investigate the Office of Attorney General.”

“At one point, the appointment of a special independent prosecutor was lawful in Pennsylvania, under the Independent Counsel Authorization Act,” Kane said in a court filing, reported by The Legal Intelligencer. “That act, however, expired in 2003, and no statute has been enacted to replace it.”

Attorneys for Kane also point to Smith v. Gallagher, a 1962 Pennsylvania Supreme Court ruling that judges have no authority to select and appoint a special prosecutor to conduct an investigating grand jury.

Kane's wild legal troubles continue to mount. State Rep. Daryl Metcalfe, plans to introduce a revised impeachment resolution in the new legislative session that considers the current potential criminal charges facing Kane.

His initial impeachment resolution focused on several of Kane's actions, including her decision not to defend the constitutionality of Pennsylvania's same-sex marriage law, and her decision to discontinue the Philadelphia political corruption investigation.

Kane does not appear to be a wilting wild flower. She vowed not to resign and told the New York Times, “The people I care about the most, the people of Pennsylvania, support me.”

“Everywhere I go,” she added. “People recognize me, and every person says the same thing: 'We see this for what it is worth. It's sickening. Hang in there.' “

Matthew T. Mangino is of counsel with Luxenberg, Garbett, Kelly & George P.C. His book The Executioner's Toll, 2010 was released by McFarland Publishing. You can reach him at and follow him on Twitter @MatthewTMangino.

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