Most Philadelphians know that I served as district attorney for eight years (1978-1986), but few would remember that I was appointed by Gov. Milton J. Shapp to be a special prosecutor and deputy attorney general to investigate public corruption in Philadelphia (1976).
From that perspective, I have watched the recent controversy regarding Attorney General Kathleen Kane's decision not to revive a public corruption investigation that had been effectively abandoned by her predecessors many months before she was sworn into office. From my experience, I believe she has been unfairly criticized. Her decision not to prosecute is the correct one.
First, any experienced prosecutor knows that you don't agree to drop all charges pending against a key cooperating witness prior to trial. In an oddly timed series of events, that is apparently what happened 45 days before Kane took office. A deal providing complete immunity to a person facing serious criminal charges results in a compromised witness whose truthfulness will easily be challenged by defense counsel.
Second, it appears that the investigatory techniques employed in this case were poorly managed and tread very close to entrapment. Additionally, some of the strategies involved border on a laughable caricature of the movie American Hustle. The notion that an African American Philadelphia Democrat needed to be bribed to vote against the voter-ID legislation is absurd. The voter-ID law was interpreted by almost everyone as an effort to suppress African American turnout. It looks like the Keystone Kops planned this investigation.
Third, and most important, is the notion that Kane made her decision based on political favoritism. This is clearly belied by her track record. A few days before this story broke, the Attorney General's Office announced the indictment and arrest of LeAnna Washington, a powerful Democratic state senator from Philadelphia.
Lastly, Kane asked the highly respected Dauphin County district attorney, Ed Marsico, to give the investigation a second look. He agreed that it should not be prosecuted. However, given the existence of the tapes, the Philadelphia District Attorney's Office could proceed with the prosecution. It has refrained from doing so, just as Kane's predecessors did, and for good reason.
Like Kane, I detest elected officials who violate the public trust. But I also know that the proper administration of justice and limited resources require prosecutors to carefully consider which cases to pursue. The elected officials, if they are guilty of this conduct, should not go unpunished. The legislature should take strong and decisive action to censure them and perhaps even expel them from office.