Montgomery County judge orders Kane to court to explain firing top deputy

Former Pennsylvania Attorney General Kathleen Kane (AP file photo)

Former Pennsylvania Attorney General Kathleen Kane (AP file photo)

Attorney General Kathleen Kane will have to answer to a Montgomery County judge for firing a top deputy in her office.

In an order issued Friday, Judge William Carpenter said terminating James Barker as the attorney general’s chief deputy of criminal appeals might have violated a protective order meant to shield Barker and others who testified before a grand jury investigating Kane for allegedly breaking grand jury secrecy rules.

Kane has said the dismissal was not retaliatory. In a written statement, she said letting Barker go was part of an office overhaul prompted by “media reports of cases allegedly before a sitting grand jury.”

“The decisions on restructuring and personnel are about change to an office that desperately needed new leadership that is accountable and responsible to Pennsylvanians,” she said in the statement. “There is not the slightest grain of truth to the notion that there is anything retaliatory about these restructuring and personnel changes. Any innuendo to the contrary is entirely false.”

The hearing in Montgomery County is scheduled for April 27. Barker said Friday that he expects to be there.

“I would probably go down as an interested party,” Barker said, laughing weakly, “but I probably would be required to testify about my termination.”

Barker, considered the grand jury expert within the Office of the Attorney General, was fired Wednesday. He said he was given no explanation by his direct supervisor. When Kane’s spokeswoman called it the result of a “restructuring,” Barker said it was news to him.

“I never had that sense,” said Barker. “To my knowledge, there’s been no reorganization as far as the structure of the office.”

In the meantime, Montgomery County District Attorney Risa Vetri Ferman is considering whether to bring charges against Kane recommended by the grand jury that investigated allegations she contravened grand jury confidentiality rules. The recommended charges include official oppression, perjury, and false swearing.

Kane could face a criminal contempt charge if Carpenter finds she did break the protective order.

Regardless of how it turns out, Barker doesn’t expect to be restored to his office. He’s looking for his next gig, even as he wistfully lists the cases he won’t be able to see through on appeal.

“This was my dream job,” he said.

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