HARRISBURG - In a sign of a deepening rift within the Attorney General's Office, Kathleen G. Kane's top deputies are questioning her ability to perform her duties with a suspended law license.
The office's four top lawyers have told their boss in a bluntly written letter that they disagree with her assessment that she will not be hampered from doing her job after losing her license to practice law.
In fact, her deputies wrote, they are concerned that if the attorney general does not delegate key responsibilities while unable to act as a lawyer, it could hurt the office and undermine cases.
"We think immediate changes are necessary," wrote First Deputy Attorney General Bruce 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 3d, who presides over the public protection unit.
On Thursday, Beemer and the three senior aides also challenged Kane on another front: They sent her a letter rejecting her view that any emails sent to computers in her office could be made public. Using emails mistakenly sent to her agency's servers, Kane raised questions this week about the conduct of a judge.
The two letters exposed a tense and anxious atmosphere in the Attorney General's Office as Kane faces criminal charges and has become entangled in a growing list of public - and high-stakes - feuds with prosecutors and judges across the state.
The aides' letter about Kane's law license marked the first time her top deputies have formally objected to her view that her suspension would not affect her ability to work.
The letter was sent Oct. 22, the day the suspension of Kane's law license took effect. The Inquirer learned of both letters Friday.
Kane's spokesman, Chuck Ardo, said Friday that Kane continues to believe that most of what she does is "administrative and ministerial," and not the work of a lawyer.
He said she had sought legal advice about what she can and cannot do as a result of the license suspension. That cleared the way for her to stay in the job, he said.
Asked whether the dispute within the office over her status exposed divisions and discontent, Ardo said: "Most people understand that when you get three lawyers in a room, you are likely to hear four different opinions on the same subject."
Kane's law license was suspended by the state Supreme Court last month as a result of the criminal case she is facing in Montgomery County. She is charged with conspiracy, official oppression, perjury, and other crimes after allegedly leaking confidential information in a bid to embarrass a critic.
Kane, a Democrat, has pleaded not guilty.
This week, Kane decided to publicly release Judge Barry Feudale's emails. The messages, to his lawyers and two Inquirer reporters, were captured on the computer servers in Kane's office after he mistakenly sent them to the old email address of a former state prosecutor.
Kane made them public after The Inquirer reported that her political consultant had been quietly circulating copies of the messages to news organizations.
In releasing two of the judge's emails, Kane accused him of judicial misconduct, saying they showed him considering leaking secret filings of the state Supreme Court.
The filings were generated during Feudale's failed effort to remain as a judge presiding over a statewide investigative grand jury. In a fight conducted under seal, Kane in 2013 successfully petitioned the high court to remove Feudale from the powerful position.
She said she turned the emails over to the Judicial Conduct Board, which then subpoenaed her agency for all email messages exchanged between state prosecutors and grand jury judges in recent years. In turn, Kane recently detailed two agents to examine those records.
Lawyer Samuel C. Stretton, who was among the recipients in emails made public by Kane, said he was considering filing suit to seek to block the Kane investigation.
"It is clear that she is violating grand jury secrecy. She has two people going through grand jury emails, and you can't do that without a grand jury judge's approval," he said Friday. "It's totally illegal. And that has to be stopped."
Feudale, meanwhile, has denounced Kane as "the most corrupt, dishonest, deceptive, politically motivated 'public servant' I have encountered."
Without providing any details, he said he would release a lengthy statement early next week documenting that Kane and close associates had "committed multiple violations of the law and professional ethics."
In justifying her decision to release Feudale's emails, Kane contended that she can make virtually anything public once it lands on her computer servers.
"Any email sent to an email account in the Office of Attorney General, whether from a private or public email account, is not considered a private communication once it is captured by an OAG server," she wrote in a statement Thursday.
Beemer, Donahue, Mulle, and Cherba disagreed.
Within hours of Kane's statement, they sent her a letter with a clear message. "That statement is wrong," they wrote.
They said the Attorney General's Office is bound by both the law and the rules of professional conduct for lawyers to keep many matters confidential.
"Employees are allowed 'limited, occasional or incidental' use of emails for personal purposes," they wrote. "These communications are not public records within the meaning of the Right-to-Know law."