Former Pennsylvania Chief Justice Ronald D. Castille has vigorously rejected suggestions from Attorney General Kathleen G. Kane that he had a political agenda in approving a grand jury investigation into leaks by her office.

"It's all kosher. No one is out to get her," Castille said.

Castille, a Republican who just retired after 21 years on the high court, said grand jury probes must remain secret so people investigated but never charged are not unfairly tarred, a rule he said was violated by a leak from Kane's office.

His comments in an interview this week with The Inquirer - and a volley back Tuesday from Kane's legal team - marked their latest exchange over a leak probe headed for its apex.

The probe Castille authorized is expected to end soon with recommendations that could include no action, a rebuke, or even criminal charges against the first Democrat and woman to be elected attorney general in Pennsylvania.

Kane has called the investigation an "abuse of the criminal justice system."

Lanny J. Davis, one of Kane's lawyers, said Tuesday night: "Chief Justice Castille is, with all respect, wrong on the facts and the law."

The grand jury is looking into how details of a long-ago investigation of a Philadelphia civil rights leader appeared in a Philadelphia Daily News article in June. The article did not identify the source of the information.

Kane has acknowledged that she knew material from her office was given to the newspaper, but she said her conduct was lawful and not an illegal leak.

Castille, who approved the request by Common Pleas Court Judge William Carpenter for a special prosecutor to look into the issue, said he was flabbergasted to read Kane's admission that she knew information was passed to the newspaper.

"I had zero idea that it would go all the way up to her," he said.

The Daily News article cited an investigative memo from 2009 that raised questions about financial matters involving J. Whyatt Mondesire, then the head of the Philadelphia chapter of the NAACP. Mondesire was never charged or publicly named as a subject of a probe until the Daily News article. It also cited a 2014 memo that reviewed the case.

On Tuesday, Davis drew a distinction between the 2014 memo and the 2009 one. He said Kane had legal authority to release the 2014 document, written years after the Mondesire matter was over and thus not grand jury material. Her camp suggests that she played no role in the release of the 2009 material.

Mondesire has denied any wrongdoing. Davis said Tuesday that "Attorney General Kane's decision to disclose the nonconfidential 2014 memo was not intended to impugn Mr. Mondesire's integrity."

The real target of the leak appeared to be former state prosecutor Frank G. Fina, overseer of the Mondesire investigation. The article suggested Fina had failed to aggressively pursue a case against Mondesire.

Kane and Fina have been at odds since The Inquirer reported last spring that she had shut down a sting investigation Fina launched in 2010 that caught Philadelphia Democrats on tape accepting cash.

Castille said he was troubled that allegations against Mondesire had been made public years after the fact. He said the Mondesire case was "the perfect example" of why grand jury materials should remain secret.

"The power of the grand jury . . . they can ruin somebody pretty easily if the stuff is made public," he said.

Mondesire said Tuesday: "The chief justice's statement simply reflects what I have known all along: that the Attorney General's Office and the Daily News leak of grand jury evidence against me was outrageous and, I believe, illegal."

Davis said Kane did not violate grand jury secrecy because "in 2009, when the grand jury was sitting, she was a stay-home mom and didn't taken any secrecy oath."

State law identifies some court personnel, such as stenographers, who by their position are barred from discussing grand jury information. It does not specify the attorney general.

Castille was impatient with that argument, which Kane's lawyers first raised several weeks ago.

"There is no such thing as grand jury confidentiality under that argument. That way, anyone and his brother other than those named people could give out transcripts and hold press conferences," he said.

He added: "She is the chief law enforcement officer of the state. For her to take advantage of a technicality, that's ridiculous."

Castille noted that this was not the first time he had approved a grand jury leak investigation. At least five other special prosecutors have been appointed to investigate such leaks in Pennsylvania in the last decade - including leaks about probes into casino owner Louis DeNaples and sex offender Jerry Sandusky.

In the only investigation to lead to an arrest, an agent with the Attorney General's Office was imprisoned briefly in 2007 for talking about a probe of conditions in the Lackawanna County prison.

215-854-4821 @CraigRMcCoy