With impeachment of Kathleen Kane on hold, House shifts focus to broader ethics reform

With impeachment of Kathleen Kane on hold, House shifts focus to broader ethics reform

Author: Jason Gottesman/Monday, November 14, 2016/Categories: News and Views

While the House Judiciary Committee’s Subcommittee on Courts held a marathon hearing Monday under their authority to investigate the potential impeachment of former Attorney General Kathleen Kane, subcommittee Chairman Todd Stephens (R-Montgomery) said the move on actual impeachment proceedings is likely on hold.


“I wouldn’t expect, from a practical standpoint, it would make any sense to move forward with an actual impeachment,” he told reporters Monday morning.


“What I do think is important is that we do create this record in case her conviction is ever set aside, if she’s ever pardoned…we want to make sure if she ever becomes eligible [to hold public office] a future legislature can point back at this record and say ‘Now, we’re going to move ahead with impeachment proceedings to prevent her from serving’.”


In Monday’s hearing the subcommittee heard from nine testifiers, including current Attorney General Bruce Beemer and former and current employees in the Office of Attorney General who spoke of misconduct by Kane and the environment created under her lead at OAG.


With the intent to compile a record for future legislatures in mind, Rep. Stephens also said the purpose of the hearing was to ask testifiers about ways the legislature could increase its oversight of the Office of Attorney General—and perhaps elsewhere in government—to prevent something like the Kane incident from ever happening again.


“I think the legislature has to play a greater role in overseeing misconduct in these offices,” Rep. Stephens said.


Areas of specific focus at Monday’s hearing related to the Commonwealth Attorneys Act included looking at succession within the Office of Attorney General, whether the Attorney General should have the power to appoint subordinates above the First Deputy Attorney General, and whether there should be a law on the book disallowing employees within the office have outside law practices.


“I think all three of those areas are, unfortunately, issues that came forward as a result of these unfortunate circumstances, but are areas that have proven there is a gap or a hole that can create problems in the agency and for the citizens and I think it would be prudent to consider addressing them,” Attorney General Beemer told the committee.


Additionally, General Beemer recommended reenacting the special prosecutor’s statute, indicating “there is a time and place to have a statute like that in place.”


More broadly, Rep. Stephens did not rule out looking at broader reforms as a result of their investigation relative to the Office of Attorney General.


“We had a Treasurer marched off in handcuffs, we had an Attorney General marched off in handcuffs, we’ve had several House members marched off in handcuffs, and the legislature hasn’t been involved in providing the accountability and transparency in any of those instances,” he said. “I think we need to play a greater role in overseeing these elected officials and ensuring when there’s misconduct we get to the heart of it.”


Outside of the Kane context, the House Ethics Committee met Monday afternoon and unanimously adopted recommended changes to the House Rules—internal operating guidelines by which the body conducts itself—that would make it easier for the committee to conduct its business and clarify its authority.


Committee Chairman Scott Petri (R-Bucks) commented that in the committee’s work over this and previous sessions investigating misconduct by a number of House members, it became evident the changes were needed.


Recommended changes adopted by the committee Monday include to make House Rule 47 part of the House Ethical Conduct Rules, clarify the standing nature and jurisdictional authority of the committee, require the adoption of committee rules, give clarification on the status of the committee during sine die, and provide greater clarity during the committee preliminary and formal investigative stages, among others.


“The need for clear guidance in ethics matters and the committee process and procedures evolved as a result of committee activities over the last several legislative sessions,” said Chairman Petri. “In an effort to self-audit and anticipate change, the committee has identified prospective changes that should be made into our rules.”


The new House Rules cannot be adopted until the new General Assembly is sworn-in in January and would only apply to future sessions of the House of Representatives. The rules would not affect the Senate.