HARRISBURG - Attorney General Kathleen G. Kane must delegate virtually all of her duties as the state's highest law enforcement official to others because of the suspension of her law license, her top deputies warned in a letter to their boss made public Monday.
Contradicting Kane's belief that she can continue performing the majority of her duties, her aides said the attorney general must yield nearly every key decision in criminal and civil cases. That includes decisions on whether to bring a civil action or criminal case, whether to offer or accept a plea bargain, or whether to settle a civil matter.
If Kane does not recuse herself, she and others in the office could face sanctions arising from her acting as a lawyer in defiance of her suspension, her aides said.
"Any action that can be construed as you practicing law exposes the attorney staff to disciplinary sanction for allowing you to make such a decision or not reporting it," wrote Bruce Beemer, Kane's first deputy, together with the chiefs of the office's criminal, civil, and public protection units.
The letter is part of evidence being considered by the Senate committee examining whether to remove Kane from office because of her pending criminal case and the suspension of her license.
The committee is scheduled to hold its second hearing Tuesday morning with testimony from experts on the provision in the state constitution that requires an attorney general to be a member of the bar.
Though Chief Justice Thomas G. Saylor of the state Supreme Court has said Kane's suspension does not prevent her from staying in office, there has been much debate over what decisions she can make without an active law license, given the nature of her job.
For her part, Kane, a Democrat, has said the majority of her work is "administrative and ministerial," and that she anticipates being able to carry out "98 percent" of her duties without the help of others.
Her office has not explained what changes, if any, she has made since her suspension took effect last month. Kane did tell members of the Senate committee that she had delegated authority to approve wiretaps to Beemer and another top aide.
Kane spokesman Chuck Ardo said Monday that the attorney general is "scrupulously avoiding the practice of law while her license is under suspension."
He said no lawyer in the office had reported any complaints about her practicing law.
In their letter, Kane's top deputies noted that her suspension had led opposing counsel in one case involving charities to challenge any decisions she made in the matter. They said they expected lawyers in other cases to do the same.
The letter was signed by Beemer, along with the office's three top lawyers: Lawrence Cherba, who heads the criminal law division; Robert A. Mulle, who oversees the civil law section; and James A. Donahue III, who presides over the office's public protection unit.
The Senate committee is expected to produce its preliminary findings by Nov. 25 on a very narrow question: whether Kane's suspension means that she can no longer perform her duties.
If it concludes that she cannot, the committee could then hold a hearing to determine whether she should be removed from office.
The constitution allows the governor to remove an official for cause, following a two-thirds vote in the Senate.