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Senate hearings to determine if AG Kane can be forced out

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HARRISBURG, Pa. -- A state senate committee tasked with determining if Kathleen Kane can remain as Attorney General has given the Scranton Democrat until Friday to respond to a subpoena.

The bi-partisan committee, which held its first hearing Monday to assess Kane's ability to function without a law license, issued the subpoena last Friday and has given Kane's legal team a week to respond, according to committee chairman Sen. John Gordner.

"We have asked her as a committee, unanimously, for information how that office is operating," said the Columbia County Republican.

Kane, who had her law license suspended Oct. 21 in the wake of a series of perjury charges stemming from leaked grand jury information, maintains she is still able to do "98 percent" of her duties as Attorney General. In response, the Senate created a seven-member panel designed to investigate those claims, and ultimately determine if Kane is able to functionally serve without a license to practice law. The committee will report by the end of November to the Senate body, which can oust the Attorney General with a two-thirds majority vote and a signature by Governor Tom Wolf. The governor has openly stated he would like to see Kane resign.

Despite the subpoena, Kane does not appear willing to comply. On Friday, she issued a six-page letter to the Senate's general counsel indicating the Attorney General's office should be exempt under the rarely used Article 6 Section 7 of the Pennsylvania Constitution, which is the legal grounds being used to potentially force Kane out of office. It has not been used "since the early 1900's," according to Drew Crompton, chief counsel for Senate Republicans.

"This is unique. It's fair to say in the modern era this has not been pursued under this constitutional provision," Crompton said. "We're just dealing with her legal arguments which we believe are shallow. I think she has very little to stand on, under the constitution."

Monday's hearing features testimony from three statewide district attorneys, two Democrats and one Republican, who were asked if they would be able to continue their respective roles if their law licenses were revoked.

"Not a day goes by, and not a decision goes by, without it relating to me being a lawyer," said Berks County District Attorney John T. Adams, a Democrat. "I'd be on permanent vacation (without one). My golf game would improve, but that's about it."

However, both Adams and David Heckler, a Republican DA from Bucks County, said they have been unaffected by Kane's suspension since Oct. 21. For Lisa Lazzari-Strasiser, a first-term Democrat from Somerset County, the impact has been felt in dealing with a recent question involving her joint task force. She said a detective asked her how Kane's suspension would affect the program, which is partnered with the Attorney General's office. She fears Kane's active role in the Attorney General's office could lead to questions in court on how the cases are being prosecuted.

"If the Attorney General has a suspended license to practice law, she shouldn't be reading communication if it's asking for a legal decision," Lazzari-Strasiser said.

Monday's hearing was the first of what is expected to be a few more, according to Sen. Gordner. The next hearing should take place next week, he added, involving constitution experts.

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