Pennsylvania Attorney General resigns following criminal conviction

Kathleen Kane, once a rising star in Pennsylvania politics, had to resign following her criminal convictions based on a grand jury media leak.

Kathleen Kane was a political rising star in the democratic party.  She made history in Pennsylvania state politics when she was elected attorney general.  The position has only been an elected position since 1980.  In 2012 Kane became the first democrat and first female elected attorney general.  Prior to her run for office, Kane found success as an assistant district attorney and in private practice, even working for the 2008 Hillary Clinton Presidential Campaign.

[Kane] uncovered thousands of emails between state officials containing pornographic, misogynistic, and racist content.

Kane was very vocal about her opinion of the state government system, referring to it as “the good ole boys club,” and vowing to bring that to an end.  One of her platforms was vowing to look into the mishandling of the Jerry Sandusky case by her predecessor, Tom Corbett.   Jerry Sandusky, a former Pennsylvania State football coach, made headlines when he was accused (and later convicted) of sexually abusing young boys.  Kane was critical of the Corbett’s handling of the case, especially that he knew of allegations in 2008, but nothing was filed until 2011.  Kane stated in an interview that she believed the lag in charges came from Corbett’s desire to get votes, and keep voters happy.  During the end of the Sandusky scandal, Corbett was launching his campaign for Governor of Pennsylvania, which ended with him being elected.  When looking into the case, Kane did not find much evidence against Sandusky.  Instead, she uncovered thousands of emails between state officials containing pornographic, misogynistic, and racist content.  These officials included two state Supreme Court justices, and Kane’s own sister who was an aide in her office.

Frank Fina, a Pennsylvania state prosecutor was also included in the list of officials sending these emails.  Fina and Kane were known to have a political rivalry, and both were outspokenly critical of each other.   Fina worked under Tom Corbett during his time as attorney general, and though that Kane was unduly critical of Corbett’s job.  Kane also felt that, as a supporter of Corbett, Fina was part of the problem.  This rivalry would be at the center of Kane’s legal issues.

The leak was found to have come from somewhere inside Kathleen Kane’s office.

In 2009, Frank Fina was in charge of a secret grand jury investigation into a local PA chapter of the NAACP, although ultimately the investigation never resulted in charges.  This information was leaked to the media in 2014, and the leak was found to have come from somewhere inside Kathleen Kane’s office.  Frank Fina was highly criticized for his handling of the case following the media leak, and the information was potentially damaging to his career.

Title 42 of the Statutes of the State of Pennsylvania, section 4549, governs all grand jury proceedings that occur at the state court level.  According to the rule, an attorney for the government must keep all grand jury matters a secret.  When an attorney wishes to disclose any grand jury material to investigators, they must obtain special judicial permission.  There is no exception for releasing information to the media.

Frank Fina and other state officials demanded that a full investigation into the leak be launched.  After an investigation, a grand jury recommended in early 2015 that criminal charges be brought against Kane, but no charges were filed until August of that year.  Upon the filing of the charges, Kane stated that she had no plans to resign as attorney general.  Kane stayed firm in this position, even when the State Supreme Court suspended her law license for her violation of grand jury secrecy laws.  Kane said she was disappointed in the decision, but would continue to serve the people of Pennsylvania.

The Pennsylvania State Senate made an attempt to remove her [Kane] from office.

Following the suspension of her license, the Pennsylvania State Senate made an attempt to remove her from office.  By a vote of 29-19, the attempt to remove her failed.  After the removal attempt, Kane stated that although she could not practice, she has appointed special prosecutors to continue investigating political corruption in Pennsylvania.  Although she herself could not appear in court, she maintained she could still properly do her job.

Her defense strategy was to say that the grand jury leak from an aide in her office, Adrian King.

Kane’s case finally went to trial in summer of 2016.  Her defense strategy was to say that the grand jury leak came from an aide in her office, Adrian King.  Prosecution witness Josh Morrow rebutted this theory.  Morrow, who was given immunity in exchange for his testimony, stated that Kane was the source of the leak, and that he helped her attempt to frame Adrian King.  No witnesses were called to defend Kane, nor did Kane testify.  In a post-trial press conference, her defense attorney said that these were intentional strategies, which unfortunately did not pan out.

A jury found Kane guilty of nine criminal charges in total, including two felony perjury charges and several misdemeanors.  Following her conviction, the judge presiding over the case took Kane’s passport, and warned her against any action that may be viewed as retaliation towards the witnesses who testified against her.  Kane’s attorneys believe that they were denied the chance to mount a full defense, and said that the judge would not allow them to present key evidence.

Kane maintains that she is innocent of the charges, and is a victim of political backlash due to her investigations into state officials.  Kane could face several years in prison at her sentencing, but there have been some talks of a potential appeal.  Although Kane had until her sentencing date to resign as attorney general, she announced her resignation on August 17, 2016.  When asked about her resignation Kane stated, “I try to live every day like it’s my last, I try to do the best job I can every day. And I have no regrets. I hope that people see that we’ve done our best. . . . And, you know, sometimes the price is high.”  Bruce Castor is acting attorney general until elections in November.

Avatar photo
About Katelyn Heath, Ethics Editor Emeritus (20 Articles)
Katelyn Heath is a 2017 graduate of Campbell Law School and served as the Ethics Editor for the Campbell Law Observer during the 2016-2017 academic year. She is from Salisbury, North Carolina and graduated from UNC-Charlotte with a Bachelor of Arts in History and Criminal Justice in 2014. Following her first year of law school she attended Baylor Law Schools Academy of the Advocate in Scotland. She is also currently working for Marshall and Taylor PLLC, a local family law firm.
Contact: Email