The curtain has closed on a Pennsylvania political tragedy of Shakespearian proportion—a drama that included sex, rivalries, secret meetings, corruption, impeachment, a public trial. and a litany of disgraced leaders.
Pennsylvania Attorney General Kathleen Kane, who resigned this week,was the first woman and first Democrat elected attorney general in a state that only began electing its attorney general in 1980. She campaigned as an outsider —a non-politician who had never before run for public office—who could shake up establishment politics in her state.
But her rise and fall offers a lesson about the importance of experience in running senior criminal justice agencies—not to mention holding high government office.
As we approach a presidential election pitting a self-proclaimed outsider against maybe the ultimate insider, there is something to be said for experience. Although President Obama said “There is nothing that truly prepares you for the demands of the Oval Office,” understanding compromise that comes with being a U.S. Senator, diplomacy that comes with being secretary of state, and humility that comes with being first lady can be helpful.
Kane’s lack of experience running a large office, dealing with the public scrutiny of high political office, and the failure to understand the nuances of politics proved disastrous for the citizens of Pennsylvania and has struck at the very core of the state’s criminal justice system
A jury of six men and six women took little more than four hours to convict Kane of perjury, conspiracy, official oppression, and false swearing. Her trial began last week and was highlighted by testimony from three insiders: ex-first deputy Bruce Beemer; a former aide and former beau, Adrian King; and political confidant and consultant Josh Morrow.
Her perjury conviction is a felony and can land her in prison.
Kane was a rising star in Pennsylvania politics. The former assistant county prosecutor won by an unexpectedly large margin when she beat a county prosecutor who was the son-in-law of the state’s first elected attorney general, Leroy Zimmerman.
She gained points during the campaign by attacking the sitting governor, her predecessor, Tom Corbett, and his handling of the Jerry Sandusky child molestation investigation. Kane suggested that Corbett slow-walked the investigation so the matter would not come up during his campaign for governor.
She vowed to investigate the investigation.
The investigation of the Sandusky investigation 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 and among other state officials.
In the process, a feud began with the chief prosecutor of the Sandusky investigation, Frank Fina. Fina left the AG’s office when Kane was sworn in and took a job in the Philadelphia District Attorney’s office.
All fingers pointed to Fina when a story broke that Kane discontinued a Philadelphia political corruption prosecution. In fact, Fina’s new boss, Philadelphia DA Seth Williams, agreed to take over the prosecution. Kane was incensed and said that Fina’s alleged action in leaking the story meant “war.”
She retaliated by leaking grand jury documents to the Philadelphia Daily News relating to a 2009 case involving J. Whyatt Mondesire which Fina declined to prosecute. Then Kane lied to a grand jury about ordering the leak.
Kane’s tenure has been tumultuous to say the least. Her law license has been suspended, and she survivied an targent impeachment attempt by the state house.
Kane arrived in office in January 2013 with little or no political experience. A former assistant district attorney for Lackawanna County, her period in office was filled with odd and frankly unbelievable conduct, followed by bluster about being the victim of the “old boys club.” In the process, she released a series of crude and pornographic emails that cost the jobs of two Supreme Court justices, a member of the former governor’s cabinet and a member of the state board of probation and parole.
At a time when law enforcement, prosecutors and the justice system are being challenged, Kane’s “public service” debacle has done nothing to help. Kane was preoccupied with her own political survival. She lacked credibility to be a force in law enforcement reform, rooting out corruption or building stronger ties to the community for prosecutors and the court system.
That was a cautionary lesson in itself, but to underline the poiny, Kane’s first deputy (and her appointed replacement) Bruce L. Castor Jr., said at a press conference that some of the mess Kane left behind won’t be so easily wiped away. He said his first objective as attorney general will be regaining the trust of the public, which he acknowledged was damaged by Kane’s tumultuous tenure.
Kane leaves office with a whimper. Although her lawyer suggests she may appeal, her resignation is the beginning of the end of an ugly period in Pennsylvania politics.
We would do well to keep that ugly chapter in mind when we think about our national leadership in the months ahead.
Matthew T. Mangino, the former district attorney of Lawrence County, Pennsylvania 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 www.mattmangino.com and follow him on Twitter @MatthewTMangino). Readers’ comments are welcome.