Pennsylvania’s law office must defend our constitution from assault
The full resources of the Pennsylvania Office of Attorney General must be harnessed to put credible arguments on these important issues before all appropriate courts.
Pennsylvania Attorney General Kathleen Kane must soon go to court to fight vigorously for two issues of importance to all Pennsylvanians.
Republican leaders in the state senate hope to quickly force AG Kane from office using an obscure clause added to the Pennsylvania constitution in the nineteenth century intended to remove mentally impaired or senile office holders.
That’s not just an insult to the mentally ill and impaired. It’s a danger to all Pennsylvania office holders who could find themselves next so mistreated and maligned.
By using this unusual maneuver, the Senate leadership hopes to short-circuit the lawful impeachment process conducted by the state House, and cut off full debate of Kane’s complicated circumstances.
As an excuse for this inexcusable end-run around of the state constitution, GOP leaders point to Kane’s temporary law license suspension in October as grounds for convening the Senate’s own highly questionable ad-hoc impeachment committee.
Both these issues — Kane’s law license suspension and the Senate’s threatened attempt to unlawfully impeach her — should now be fought vigorously in court.
And Kathleen Kane shouldn’t just fight them personally.
These issues should be fought in state courts, and federal courts if need be, with the full resources of the Pennsylvania Office of Attorney General.
Though they are separate issues, the Senate’s impeachment effort and Kane’s law license suspension are so closely entwined it’s hard to tell which is the mother, and which is the daughter, of this ongoing public fiasco.
It’s a little like Kane’s political troubles themselves: it’s hard to tell the facts from the political skulduggery.
Many Pennsylvanians were justifiably concerned and outraged this September when a compromised state Supreme Court suspended Kane’s law license before she had a chance to defend herself, and her presumed innocence, in a court of law.
Now we have additional reasons to believe the process to suspend her law license itself was tainted.
Two state Supreme Court justices, Michael Eakin and Seamus McCaffery, have been ensnared in the pornographic email scandal unearthed by Kane.
As if that’s not bad enough, it turns out the chief counsel for the Judicial Conduct Board — which last year prematurely and quickly cleared Eakin in the porno email scandal — is a friend of Eakin’s, has worked on one of Eakin’s political campaigns for the high court, and may or may not have himself been a recipient of those racy emails.
Other self-serving actions by the Supreme Court justices and the court’s disciplinary offices serve to undermine and discredit the court’s unprecedented push to unfairly suspend Kane’s law license before she’s had a chance to defend herself.
Just last week, Justice Eakin requested a quick rehearing of his own troubles before the Supreme Court’s own Court of Judicial Discipline.
If Justice Eakin’s case can be reconsidered for reasons of fairness, or for whatever reason, so certainly can Kane’s.
One wonders if Justice Eakin has learned the deeper lesson here.
By treating Kane in an unfair manner, and embracing unfairness and injustice for her, Eakin and the others have helped to unleash a dark atmosphere of unfairness and quick judgment that now threatens to swallow others, including Eakin himself, and his own friends.
That’s why we should always insist on fairness for others. It’s not only the right thing to do. We all would like to be treated fairly.
As we’ve been saying from the start of this deepening fiasco: What goes around, comes around.
Kane’s case certainly wasn’t the start of this coarsening, and the ignoring, of the right to due process in Pennsylvania.
The political firestorm against Attorney General Kane smacks of the earlier Joe Paterno / Penn State / Louis Freeh fiasco, where pre-supposed political conclusions were used as justifications for quick and careless actions, resulting in the destruction of careers and reputations, before all the evidence had come in.
The presumption of innocence, that basic American right to be considered innocent until proven guilty, has been nurtured in Pennsylvania for more than two centuries.
We’re now getting some inkling of what happens when that principle, and that right, is disregarded.
Ignoring the rights of Coach Joe Paterno and others to due process and the presumption of innocence undoubtedly poisoned the atmosphere in Pennsylvania and made things worse in an already bad state. It helped to further lower standards and pave the way for what has happened to Kane, and now Eakin, and no doubt others.
If short-sighted or vindictive politicians and newspaper reporters get away with further eroding Attorney General Kane’s right to due process and presumption of innocence, we can expect, like rain, the rights of ordinary Pennsylvanians to soon be ignored as well.
So the matter of Kane’s premature and reckless law license suspension is a concern to all Pennsylvanians.
The state attorney general’s office, and not Kane as an individual, should now ask the state supreme court to reconsider her unwarranted and premature law license suspension.
In Kane’s case, Pennsylvania’s highest court improperly intervened in its own legal and disciplinary mechanisms and procedures of due process, and in so doing also prejudiced and jeopardized Kane’s right to a fair trial by a jury of her peers.
The supreme court’s reckless suspension of Kane’s law license not only has seriously and unfairly harmed her, but it clearly also obstructs the Office of Attorney General from performing other important tasks, and further puts all Pennsylvanians at risk.
For the same reason, the Office of Attorney General, and AG Kane, must now also go to court to oppose the state Senate from running Their Own Private Idaho of an impeachment committee, which also is clearly unconstitutional and wrong, morally repugnant, and dangerous.
The reality is, if Kane doesn’t soon go to court to check the Senate leadership’s political overreach in their attempt to impeach her by another name, she won’t be around much longer in public office to do anything.
The state constitution is quite clear that the sole power of impeachment rests with the House, and not the Senate. It is the role of the House to impeach, and the Senate to convict — not the other way around, as the misguided Senate leadership would like to do here.
When this same procedure was last attempted and failed in the 19th century, it was clearly stated that it was the responsibility of the state attorney general to properly decide the constitutionality of this legislative maneuver.
So it is today.
It’s also worth noting that the Senate leadership wants to have its cake and to eat it to.
The antiquated procedure Senate leaders are advocating to remove Kane from office specifically demands a “full hearing” in the Senate, not a Mickey Mouse airing of limited and narrow issues like Kane’s law license, as they propose.
All told, what we see here isn’t only an attack on due process; it’s also an assault on our written state constitution, and a coup against basic separation of powers.
If Kane’s political enemies in the court and the Senate get away with all this it’s anyone’s guess whose and what rights are disposed of next. This much is clear: It will surely be some Pennsylvanians’ nightmare.
There is one state office that is responsible to defend our constitution, on behalf of all Pennsylvanians.
That job, and the resources to do it, belongs to the Office of Attorney General.
Last Wednesday, November 18, First Deputy Attorney General Bruce Beemer testified before the Senate’s ad-hoc impeachment committee that the Office of Attorney General has some eight hundred employees. Approximately a third of those employees, Beemer testified, are attorneys. In other words, there are hundreds of lawyers in the AG’s office.
The Office of Attorney General is truly, as the Senate impeachment panel heard, the law firm for all Pennsylvanians.
Testifying before the Senate panel, Deputy AG Beemer said the Office of Attorney General is responsible for prosecuting “bad guys,” including violent criminals and drug dealers.
That’s all well and good. But that’s only part of the job and responsibility of the attorney general’s office.
The Pennsylvania Office of Attorney General has a primary responsibility to uphold and enforce the state constitution, on behalf of our public, to ensure that no powers are unlawfully usurped, or rights trampled.
There’s abundant case law defending the right to the presumption of innocence, and the sole power of the House to impeach.
Attorneys in the AG’s office should now research these issues properly, and write credible briefs, and present them to the courts.
The timing of all this is further complicated because, in January, three newly elected justices will take their seats on the Supreme Court, drastically changing the dynamics and, one would hope, the outlook of the court. Kane may or may not get a more favorable hearing, but she’ll at least get a fresh look.
If Deputy AG Beemer, now the top licensed attorney in the office, cannot or will not perform the job now required to credibly meet these important constitutional demands in court, he should be replaced with one who can.
The full resources of the Pennsylvania Office of Attorney General should now be harnessed to research these questions, and to put credible arguments before all appropriate courts.
It’s up to Attorney General Kathleen Kane, and the Office of Attorney General, to make credible arguments to properly frame and forcefully oppose all this gathering damage before it’s too late.
They won’t just be protecting Kane’s rights, but the hard-fought rights of all Pennsylvanians.