The state Supreme Court on Friday unanimously rejected Attorney General Kathleen Kane's request that it reverse its suspension of her law license, clearing the way for the state Senate to vote on whether to remove her from office.
Last month, the embattled attorney general asked the court to undo the suspension, saying its 5-0 decision in September was "incurably tainted" by the participation of Justice J. Michael Eakin, who is now facing misconduct charges because of his involvement in the so-called Porngate scandal.
The high court avoided addressing that issue in its ruling Friday. Instead, it rejected Kane's appeal on technical grounds, saying she had filed it too late.
The ruling, a succinct five sentences, means that the Senate will now decide whether Kane, a Democrat, should remain in office. The chamber, where Republicans are the majority, had put that decision on hold to await the outcome of Kane's appeal to the Supreme Court.
Kane spokesman Chuck Ardo said the attorney general was "disappointed, but not surprised" by the court's decision.
Kane had argued that the Supreme Court's vote was tainted by the participation of Eakin, who she said faced a conflict in voting to suspend her last year because he knew that she had proof that he had exchanged salacious and offensive emails. His vote was a "deliberate attempt to remove his accuser" and prevent "further exposure" of his troubling emails, she said.
The high court rejected that argument.
Eakin, suspended from the court while awaiting his upcoming trial on ethics charges, did not take part in Friday's vote.
At the urging of the state's disciplinary board for lawyers, the high court suspended Kane's law license last fall, after she was charged with perjury, obstruction and other crimes. Prosecutors say Kane leaked secret grand jury information and later lying about it under oath.
Kane, 49, has pleaded not guilty.
Following the high court's decision, Senate President Joe Scarnati (R., Jefferson) said the chamber would move forward with a vote on her ouster.
Some Democrats in the chamber have balked at removing Kane, saying they agree with her assessment that the majority of her work is administrative and that any legal decisions can be made by her deputies.
Under the state constitution, removing Kane would require a two-thirds vote in the Senate, meaning that at least three Democrats would have to approve it. Gov. Wolf, who has called on Kane to resign as her legal troubles have mounted, would make the final decision.
Prosecutors in Montgomery County have accused the attorney general of illegally leaking confidential documents to a newspaper in a bid to embarrass a critic and then lying about it under oath. Kane has acknowledged providing information to the paper, but said she did it in a lawful way. Her trial is scheduled for Aug. 8.
Citing Kane's admission, the ethics board told the Supreme Court that the leak amounted to "egregious misconduct" that "undermined all the safeguards embodied in the investigative grand jury process." Kane, it wrote, "is facing criminal charges for the same statutes she is responsible for prosecuting."
While Kane's appeal of her license suspension focused only on Eakin, two other justices who voted last year to suspend her - Max Baer and Correale Stevens - also received offensive emails.
Unlike Eakin, they did not send any of the emails in question. Eakin both sent and received them. The two justices also received far fewer disturbing emails than Eakin and have not faced any disciplinary action.
Of the six justices who reaffirmed the license suspension Wednesday, only three were on the court when it initially suspended her license last fall. Baer was one.
Three new justices have since been elected to the court. Among them was Kevin Dougherty who received three offensive emails in 2008 and 2009 when he was a Philadelphia judge. So, two of the justices who took part in Wednesday's opinion - Dougherty and Baer - received troubling emails.
While the Supreme Court rebuffed Kane on the license issue, she may not have exhausted all of her legal options aimed at blocking action by the Senate.
Kane has maintained that the proposed Senate vote violated the state constitution. She conceivably could make the same argument in a new appeal to the Supreme Court.
Kane has said she believes that the only legal way to remove her is through impeachment, a much lengthier process that includes an investigation in the House and a trial before the full Senate.
A House committee late last month took the first steps toward launching the impeachment process, and the full House is expected to vote on a resolution to launch a formal impeachment investigation.