The state Senate should move forward with hearings to determine whether to remove beleaguered Pennsylvania Attorney General Kathleen G. Kane from office, a Senate committee announced Wednesday.
The seven-member bipartisan panel said Kane has been so hobbled by the suspension of her law license that she can no longer perform many of the duties of her job as the state's top law enforcement official.
The panel was careful to note that it was not recommending that Kane be removed from office, just that there was enough evidence for the Senate to launch formal proceedings on whether she could continue to run the office effectively.
In making its recommendation, in a 5-2 vote, the committee set the stage for the Senate to use an obscure constitutional provision to abruptly end Kane's three-year tenure as the first woman and Democrat elected to the office.
Kane said in a statement that she intended to fight the panel's recommendation.
"Today, a handful of senators sought to substitute their judgment for that of more than three million Pennsylvanians who cast their vote for the duly elected, independent attorney general," she said. "I believe this attempt to remove the attorney general from office is unconstitutional, and intend to vigorously defend the Office of Attorney General against any and all future efforts by this committee or the Senate as a whole."
The Senate panel's four Republicans were joined by one Democrat in the vote; the other two Democrats voted against the proposal to have the Senate consider removing Kane.
Sen. Art Haywood, a Democrat who represents parts of Philadelphia and Montgomery County, said he opposed moving forward because he believed Kane has either delegated, or could delegate, the legal aspects of her job.
"Our committee was presented with no evidence of any violation by the attorney general," he said.
Sen. Judy Schwank, the other Democrat who opposed the move to proceed with removing Kane, agreed, adding that the office continues to function and that there is no evidence of harm so far to the office.
Attempting to remove Kane "is likely only to lead to the expense of public tax dollars, Senate resources, and further political division unhelpful to the interests of the commonwealth," she said.
Drew Crompton, the Senate's top Republican lawyer, said the next step would be for the committee to draft, within 15 days, a resolution laying out in detail how the removal hearing will occur. The Senate would have to vote on that resolution, and if it passes, Kane would be given formal notice and the opportunity to testify.
Crompton said it had not yet been decided whether the hearing would be held before the full Senate or before a committee.
In recent statements, Kane has challenged the Senate's jurisdiction, saying the only legal way to remove her from office was through impeachment, a lengthier and more complex process that begins in the House. A House Republican lawmaker circulated a memo this week saying he intends to introduce a resolution to impeach her.
The Senate invoked a more obscure provision in the constitution in its efforts to remove Kane, who faces criminal charges and suspension of her law license. The provision allows the governor, upon a two-thirds vote in the chamber, to remove certain high-ranking elected officials from office for "reasonable cause."
Gov. Wolf called on Kane to resign after she was charged with perjury, conspiracy, and other crimes. Prosecutors say she illegally leaked confidential grand jury information in a bid to embarrass a critic and lied about that under oath. She has denied wrongdoing and pleaded not guilty.
Asked this week whether he would sign off on Kane's removal if the Senate endorses that action, Wolf said: "I am not going to give a yes or no." But he added, "I will be guided by the [Senate's] report."
In exploring whether to remove Kane from office, the Senate committee examined the narrow question of whether she could continue to perform the duties of her office with a suspended law license. Without an active law license, Kane cannot make any legal decisions in a job that requires her to do so in both criminal and civil matters.
Kane has said she believes that the majority of her job is administrative and does not require her to make legal decisions. She has vowed to remain in office while fighting both the criminal case against her and the suspension of her law license.
Soon after the charges were filed, the state Supreme Court voted unanimously to suspend Kane's law license after an emergency request by the state Disciplinary Board, which oversees attorney conduct.
The Senate committee held three hearings to determine what Kane's duties were, and whether she could perform them with a suspended license. She was not invited to testify - although she is expected to do so if the Senate forges ahead with a removal hearing.
But Kane's four top deputies testified that the impact of Kane's suspension on the office had been extraordinary, and they said that the longer she remains in office without the ability to practice law, the more vulnerable the office - and its attorneys - is to legal challenges.
Kane has blamed her legal troubles on angry Republican men who want to oust her because she uncovered a trove of pornographic emails exchanged by former or current prosecutors, judges, and other law enforcement officials.
To read the report: http://senateaddress.pasen.gov/files/2015/11/2015-11-25-Final-Report.pdf