Our Opinion: Ex-attorney general Kathleen Kane’s self-interest sabotaged the public interest

October 24th, 2016 7:11 pm

Scranton native Kathleen Kane’s rise and rapid collapse – from darling of the state’s Democratic Party to potential prisoner – represents more than a personal tragedy. It’s a public one, too.

A judge on Monday sentenced Kane, 50, the state’s former attorney general, to 10 to 23 months in prison for crimes she committed as part of a prolonged and ultimately destructive political feud. Kane, who is likely to file appeals, was found guilty in August of illegally slipping grand jury materials to the news media, then lying about it while under oath.

Almost from the time she took office in January 2013, becoming the first woman and first Democrat elected to hold the post, her focus seemed to narrow from the public good to what was good for her. Much of the attention she generated traced a similar arc, putting almost all of the emphasis on Kane.

Her ambitions.

Her looks.

Her moxie.

Her paranoia and, ultimately, her narcissism.

Largely left out of the picture – until testimony given at Monday’s sentencing hearing – was the impact that Kane’s decisions and tumultuous tenure had on workers within the 800-employee attorney general’s office and their partners in the state’s law-enforcement community.

Erik Olsen, now the chief deputy attorney general, had this to say: “Through a pattern of systemic firings and Nixonian espionage, she created a terror zone in this office.”

Due to the office’s internal upheaval, certain crime victims, witnesses and other agencies were reluctant to work with the AG’s Office, said former deputy Clarke Madden.

If those are accurate depictions of the office under Kane’s management, the atmosphere might in certain cases have jilted justice, and it more than likely cheated taxpayers who were footing the bill for an operation that sounds in many ways as if it was dysfunctional.

A clear and impartial analysis of Kane’s term probably won’t be possible for many years. The former Lackawanna County prosecutor certainly can be credited for challenging Harrisburg’s old-boy network – exposing powerful people in state government, including Supreme Court justices, for sharing porn and other inappropriate material via email on government computers.

How much of her downfall was payback? How much of it was self-inflicted and therefore deserved?

This much we know: Kane’s soap-opera-like ruination should not have come at this large a cost to the public, which expects the Attorney General’s Office to operate responsibly at all times. The protection of all Pennsylvania’s residents depends on it.

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