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August 19, 2015

Kane held on all charges

Ordered to stand trial

Kathleen Kane, Pennsylvania’s embattled attorney general, was ordered Monday to stand trial on charges that she unlawfully leaked secret grand jury information to the media in an attempt to embarrass a former colleague and then lied about it. 

Magisterial Judge Cathleen Kelly Rebar held Kane on all eight charges laid out by Montgomery County District Attorney Risa Vetri Ferman. Ferman indicted Kane about a month ago, charging her with obstruction, official oppression, criminal conspiracy, perjury and false swearing.

Arraignment has been set for Oct. 14, with a trial date to be determined later. After the four-hour hearing, during which prosecutors laid out their case, Kane declined to speak to reporters. 

Kane, 49, the highest-ranking female officeholder in the state, has claimed innocence, saying the charges are a cover-up over her investigation of pornographic emails exchanged by government officials.

"The entire story has not come out yet," said Gerald Shargel, Kane's defense attorney. "I think a little more of the story evolved today, but a little too slow for my tastes. We're looking forward to a trial."

Kane allegedly leaked grand jury information to the Philadelphia Daily News after the Philadelphia Inquirer published an article in March 2014 that revealed she had closed an investigation of Philadelphia Democratic officials who were caught pocketing bribes on videotape.

Kane allegedly blamed Frank Fina, the lead prosecutor in that case, for providing information to The Inquirer for the newspaper's story. In a scheme to get even, prosecutors say, Kane then leaked documents to the Daily News that suggested Fina had mishandled a long-shelved corruption case involving Philadelphia NAACP leader J. Whyatt Mondesire. 

During Monday's hearing, Shargel dismissed those allegations, claiming Kane had a "faster way to retaliate" against Fina, if that had been her motive. 

Shargel attempted to introduce evidence that Fina had "thousands and thousands" of pornographic images in emails.  But Rebar refused, saying the prosecution had not based its prima facie case on Kane's motive. She said such evidence potentially could be entered at trial.

"I think it's a fair issue," Shargel told reporters. "I wouldn't have raised it if I didn't think it was a fair issue. But as the judge herself said, that's something that will be decided by a higher court."

Shargel repeatedly declined to elaborate on his courtroom comments regarding Fina's alleged pornography cache, saying he would not try the case through the media.

Yet, Kane herself had alluded to potentially damning emails during a press announcement she gave a week after being indicted. Reading from a statement, Kane alleged she was targeted due to a string of “filthy” emails uncovered by her office while reviewing the handling of the Jerry Sandusky child abuse case by her predecessor as attorney general, Tom Corbett.

"I wasn't at the press conference," Shargel said. "Her views are ordinarily very helpful. I have said that I'm not trying this case in the media."

Montgomery County First Assistant District Attorney Kevin Steele declined to speculate whether the unappointed trial judge will find relevance in the pornography allegations noted by Shargel.

"We'll see," Steel said. "The burden was to put forth a prima facie case. Can we make out the elements of the crime? We did and she held all the charges."

The prosecution presented two witnesses during the hearing —  David Peifer, the agent in charge of special investigations for Kane's office, and Montgomery County Detective Paul Bradbury, who investigated Kane.

Peifer testified that he provided Kane a copy of a transcript related to Mondesire months before its information appeared last year in a Daily News article. He also said he emailed Kane a memo related to a confidential case last summer.

Steele declined to say afterward whether Peifer is cooperating with investigators or was given immunity to testify.

Kane has contended she was free to release information about the Mondesire investigation because it came from before she served as attorney general. The investigation was eventually dropped.

Bradbury testified that his investigation determined Kane leaked grand jury testimony, knowing that the information was not to be publicly disclosed — and that it was a criminal offense to do so.

Bradbury testified that Kane arranged for Josh Morrow, a political consultant who worked on her 2012 campaign, to leak the grand jury documents to a Daily News reporter. Bradbury testified that Morrow retrieved the documents from a package left in the doorway of Adrian King, Kane's former first deputy.

Steele said a timeline for Kane's trial will become more concrete after a judge is selected. However, he said it is likely the trial would not begin until sometime in 2016, when Kane, a Democrat, is up for re-election.

"There's a chance that we might get it in before the end of the year, but I think that's probably remote," Steele said.

When Kane arrived at courtroom B of the Montgomery County Courthouse, her twin sister walked in front of her, seemingly to throw off the media attempting to ask questions and take pictures. 

Kane continues to maintain her responsibilities as attorney general despite demands for her resignation, calls for impeachment and an ethics complaint.

Staff writer Kevin Shelly contributed to this report.