Ed Rendell: AG Kathleen Kane Doesn’t Need Law License
In his experience, Ed Rendell says Kathleen Kane doesn’t need a law license to be Pennsylvania attorney general.
Rendell — Philadelphia’s district attorney for eight years before later becoming mayor of the city and governor of the state — testified before a state senate committee today in defense of Kane, the embattled AG who had her law license suspended last year. Today’s Pennsylvania Special Committee on Senate Address hearing was on the topic of whether that suspension disqualifies Kane from the office of attorney general. The committee will issue a report in 15 days; the full senate could vote then on a possible dismissal.
Rendell said that, when he was district attorney of Philadelphia, “at least 97 percent” of his job did not require a law license. He gave an example: “If council turned me down, I would go to Mayor Rizzo, and I would say, ‘Mayor, it’s a war out there.’ And he would pound his fists on the desk and I would get whatever I wanted. This did not require me to have a law license.”
Three district attorneys — Bucks County’s Dave Heckler, Berks County’s John Adams and Somerset County’s Lisa Lazzari-Strasiser — testified differently in November. They all said the suspension of their law license would leave them unable to do their jobs. Rendell said that none of those three headed an office large enough to compare to Philadelphia, or the state AG’s office.
“Arlen Specter never overruled any decision that I made,” Rendell said. “He essentially delegated on a day-to-day basis.” Rendell said when he was DA there were about 35,000 cases a year. He said was involved in deciding whether to charge on 20 to 30 of them.
Rendell said most of his decisions as district attorney, even ones that appeared to be based on law, were about policy. He said he didn’t prosecute gay couples although sodomy was illegal at the time. He said he limited the number of death penalty cases because he only wanted it reserved for the most egregious of cases. He said attorneys general don’t prosecute — or even investigate — every case, and those decisions are not often based on law. “You don’t put a wiretap in the mayor’s office for running a sports-betting pool,” Rendell said.
The former governor was questioned as to why he was appearing. He blamed himself for talking to the press about testifying. After a long pause, he said he couldn’t remember if Kane spokesman Chuck Ardo or Kane herself asked her to testify.
At the end of his testimony, Rendell urged the senators that this was not the right way to remove Kane from office if they wished to do so. He said the suspension of Kane’s law license could be reversed in a month anyway, and that impeachment proceedings were the only way to remove an elected official like Kane from office.
“I know that this is a controversial subject,” Rendell said. “I care very much about the conduct of public officials… I care very deeply about their reputation, and there has been a lot of roads gone down here. And if you believe that the attorney general’s conduct was egregious, the proper remedy is impeachment. … If your main complaint is the way she conducted herself in office, impeach her.”
Before Rendell, Kathleen Kane’s chief of staff testified. Jonathan Duecker spent two and a half hours testifying and answering questions, after submitting written testimony. He argued much in the way Rendell did, saying most of Kane’s job does not require a law license. Duecker said the Supreme Court specifically said it was not removing Kane from office when it suspended her law license.
Duecker said the job of the attorney general is more about delegating legal responsibility while personally handling things like the budget, policy directives and other non-legal matters. “To suggest … [not having a law license] makes her a lame duck within the office is to misunderstand the scope of duties of the attorney general,” Duecker said. “The attorney general remains in charge. If there is any question on what the office of the attorney general does for the commonwealth no one needs to look further than by visiting our website.”
Duecker was questioned extensively on his line about the attorney general’s website. The majority chair of the Pennsylvania Special Committee on Senate Address, Republican Sen. John Gordner, said he went to the website, and the two had a dialogue over what information Kane would be looking at if visitors to the site submitted information about possible crimes.
But the strongest questioning came from Joe Scarnati, a Republican who is the president pro tempore of the state senate. He referred to testimony from four Kane aides last November, who all testified they believed Kane hasn’t been able to effectively do her job since her law license was suspended. They all said that, as of November, they had limited contact with Kane since her license suspension.
After Duecker said he didn’t know Kane’s schedule, Scarnati exploded. “You can’t even tell me when she’s been to work last!” he said. “I had four deputies when we had the last hearing, and they couldn’t tell me when she’s been to work last! Why can’t you [give me an answer]? What is it?” Duecker said he wasn’t privy to Kane’s exact schedule, but that she was doing her job.
Oh, yeah, and Scarnati and Duecker also discussed Kane’s website.
Scarnati: “You can visit any elected official’s website.”
Duecker: “But our website is the window through which the general public views our office and what our responsibilities and roles are.”
Scarnati: “My website isn’t?”
Duecker: “I can’t speak for your website, sir.”
It went on like that. The best quip of the day went back to Rendell, who concluded his testimony in Rendell-like fashion: “I’d like to say I miss all of you, but I don’t like to lie.”
Follow @dhm on Twitter.