Drumbeat continues in Pa. for independent counsel law

     Pennsylvania Attorney General Kathleen Kane speaks during a news conference Wednesday in Philadelphia. (AP photo/Matt Rourke)

    Pennsylvania Attorney General Kathleen Kane speaks during a news conference Wednesday in Philadelphia. (AP photo/Matt Rourke)

    The Northampton County district attorney is the latest in a line of people calling for the resurrection of an expired Pennsylvania law that allows appointing an independent counsel.

    For a five years, Pennsylvania statute defined a process for appointing an independent counsel to investigate the sitting attorney general, or anything that presented a conflict of interest to state prosecutors. The law expired in 2003.

    Northampton County District Attorney John Morganelli said if the law were still on the books, it could eliminate speculation over the investigation into Attorney General Kathleen Kane for allegedly leaking secret grand jury information.

    “The secrecy of this process — where things are sealed and the attorney general says she can’t speak, she’s gagged by a court order — allows people to speculate,” said Morganelli. “It allows this kind of discussion that, ‘Oh, she’s being railroaded, it’s a secret tribunal, like a Star Chamber.'”

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    A Montgomery County judge appointed a special prosecutor to look into Kane, and a grand jury has recommended charges. The state Supreme Court has barred charges from being filed until it can consider the question of whether the special prosecutor had standing to do the investigation.

    Others have called for the reestablishment of an independent counsel law in recent months.

    When The Philadelphia Inquirer reported that several public officials were caught on tape accepting money or gifts from an undercover informant as part of a sting designed by state prosecutors, the Committee of Seventy called for lawmakers to create a process for appointing an independent counsel.

    State Rep. Seth Grove, R-York, has introduced legislation to re-establish the process.

    “In the aftermath of the recent bribery charges against multiple House members,” said Grove in a co-sponsorship memo, “it is time for the General Assembly to create an independent watchdog to prosecute corruption and restore the people’s faith in their government.”

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