A former Pennsylvania investigator whose defamation claims against Attorney General Kathleen G. Kane were thrown out this year will have an opportunity to reargue his case before a state appellate court.
Commonwealth Court is scheduled to reconsider next year the suit brought by Claude Thomas, who served as lead detective on an aborted sting operation that caught Philadelphia elected officials on tape pocketing purported bribes.
His lawyer, Mark Sereni, in a statement Monday, claimed the appellate court's review was a win in and of itself.
"Detective Thomas feels encouraged by this victory and looks forward, one step at a time, to the day that Kane is fully held personally accountable for her actions against him," he said.
Thomas' lawsuit, filed in April, alleges that in justifying her decision to quash the probe in 2013, Kane lied when she told the public that the agent told his superiors that he had been specifically tasked with targeting black lawmakers.
But Common Pleas Court Judge Denis P. Cohen dismissed all but one of Thomas' claims in August, finding that Kane's criticism of the investigation was protected by laws shielding state officials from being sued for acting in their official capacity.
Cohen let stand one count in which Thomas, citing a rarely used provision of the state constitution, sought a public court hearing to clear his name.
In its order last week taking up the case, Commonwealth Court said it intended to focus its review on two issues: whether Kane's immunity for official acts should also bar the "name-clearing" hearing Thomas is seeking, and whether Kane's statements about Thomas could accurately be described as an official act.
Kane's lawyers have argued that the latter question is easy to answer. Her public explanation of why she shut down the sting falls within the scope of her office, they said.
Thomas, who notes in his lawsuit that he is African American, has accused Kane of putting words in his mouth, "insidiously playing the race card," and portraying him as unethical, incompetent and a "greedy sellout."
By suggesting he had taken part in a plan to target black legislators, Kane sought to divert public criticism of her decision to kill the public corruption investigation, Thomas alleges in his suit.
Thomas had been an agent with the Attorney General's Office for 20 years in 2010 when prosecutors selected him to work as the handler for Tyron B. Ali, the lobbyist turned undercover operative at the center of the investigation.
For the next year and a half, Thomas served as Ali's driver, ferrying him between meetings with political figures, during which he recorded conversations in which several appeared to accept bribes.
Kane, a Democrat, inherited the case when she took office in 2013 and quickly shut it down. She later defended her decision by arguing that the probe had been so tainted by racism that it could not have led to successful prosecutions.
The investigation was later resurrected by Philadelphia District Attorney Seth Williams, who has since secured guilty pleas from six Democratic public officials that Ali caught on tape and one former Philadelphia Traffic Court judge.