HARRISBURG - Pennsylvania Attorney General Kathleen G. Kane's top deputies said Wednesday that the longer their boss remains in office with a suspended law license, the higher the legal jeopardy for both the office and its cases.

The four highest ranking lawyers on Kane's staff told a Senate committee exploring whether to remove her from office that because so much of an attorney general's duties involves legal work, they have taken on Kane's decision-making responsibilities in criminal and civil cases.

"To do otherwise would have created a result that would have effectively crippled the functioning of one of the most important state agencies," Bruce Beemer, Kane's first deputy, testified before the seven-member panel.

Kane has not approved their actions, they said, but neither has she intervened.

Even so, they said, the office remains vulnerable to challenges to its authority the longer she remains the state's top law enforcement officer without the ability to practice law.

"We are extremely concerned about the impact this has on our office, which is profound - extraordinary, really," said Beemer.

He added, "There is no question the head of the office is legally disabled."

Beemer described the situation as "uncharted water," adding: "As we get further and further into this, we are going to be faced with dealing with more and more actions where we are going to be litigating these issues."

The highly anticipated testimony from Kane's deputies came as the committee prepares to complete its work. The panel is expected to issue a report by Wednesday examining the narrow question of whether the suspension of Kane's license - a result of her facing criminal charges - has so hampered her that she can no longer effectively do her job.

If the committee members decide that she cannot, they could move to hold a formal hearing on whether to remove her from office. Under the state constitution, the governor can remove a public official for cause after a two-thirds vote in the Senate.

Kane, a Democrat, has said the majority of her work is administrative, and insisted that she can continue to carry out "98 percent" of her duties while under suspension. She was charged with perjury, conspiracy, and other crimes for allegedly leaking confidential grand jury information in an attempt to publicly embarrass an enemy.

She has pleaded not guilty and said she will remain in office while she fights the charges. She has challenged the authority of the Senate committee, saying the only legal way to remove her from office is impeachment, a much lengthier process.

Kane's top aides on Wednesday gave a different view of the impact of Kane's suspension, which led to several uncomfortable moments for the four lawyers.

James A. Donahue III, who oversees the public protection unit, said Kane's description of her work as largely administrative has caused "a great deal of anxiety."

He said the attorney general does have a purely public function - she can make speeches and other public appearances, and help run the office's contests for schoolchildren. But "the vast majority of her work is to make legal decisions," said Donahue.

Also testifying Wednesday were Lawrence Cherba, who heads the criminal law division, and Robert A. Mulle, who oversees the civil law section.

All four said they knew of no legal decisions Kane had made since her suspension took effect late last month.

Senate President Joe Scarnati (R., Jefferson) questioned whether Kane even came to work anymore.

The lawyers, looking grim, could not give a definite answer.

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