HARRISBURG - A top lawyer who was fired by Pennsylvania Attorney General Kathleen Kane after testifying in the criminal case against her is suing her for defamation.

James Barker, the onetime head of the office's appeals division, is alleging Kane acted "maliciously and wantonly," firing him just weeks after learning he had appeared before a grand jury investigating her for allegedly leaking confidential information.

The lawsuit, filed in federal court in Harrisburg, also contends that Kane gave a series of evolving - and false - explanations for his ouster.

Kane's spokesman Chuck Ardo said the attorney general is reviewing the lawsuit, and "will certainly defend herself vigorously."

According to the suit, Kane learned about Barker's testimony after The Inquirer published a story in mid-March that he had appeared before a grand jury investigating Kane for leaking secret materials about an old investigation run by her predecessors.

During his grand jury appearance, according to the suit, Barker contradicted Kane's assertion that she could not be held accountable for the leak because she had not been sworn to secrecy in the matter.

Barker was fired in early April.

At the time, Kane's office said he was being fired because of a "restructuring" of the attorney general's criminal division.

"Ms. Kane acted to terminate Mr. Barker in retaliation for his testimony," the lawsuit states. "Ms. Kane publicly offered a series of false explanations for Mr. Barker's termination that call into question his good name, honor, and integrity."

Barker, a longtime prosecutor who once served in the Dauphin County District Attorney's Office, had worked in the Attorney General's Office for six years. He was a member of the team that successfully argued against an appeal by Jerry Sandusky, and had been involved in the related and ongoing prosecution of three former Pennsylvania State University administrators.

Barker, represented by James J. Kutz of Post & Schell in Harrisburg, is suing Kane in her individual capacity, and is seeking reinstatement as well as monetary damages and attorneys fees.

Kane, 49, the first woman and Democrat elected Attorney General, was charged in August with leaking grand jury information in a bid to embarrass a former top prosecutor in her office with whom she was feuding. The charges she faces include perjury, conspiracy, and official oppression.

As a result of the criminal case, the state Supreme Court last month voted unanimously to temporarily suspend her law license.

Kane has pleaded not guilty and has vowed to remain in office while fighting the charges.