HARRISBURG — A conservative Republican lawmaker who wants to impeach Democratic state Attorney General Kathleen Kane presided over nearly two hours of testimony sympathetic to his cause Tuesday after Democrats on the House State Government Committee walked out in protest.
"Happy kangaroo court, pal," Rep. Michael O'Brien, a Philadelphia Democrat, remarked to Rep. Daryl Metcalfe, the panel's chairman and sponsor of the proposed resolution, as the 10 Democrats filed out of the hearing room.
Kane was not invited to testify, nor were groups that might have defended her point of view. Instead, the 11 GOP committee members heard from conservative-leaning groups and one individual who accused Kane of breaching her statutory and ethical duties.
"I was seeking out people who would talk about her violating the law and the Constitution," Metcalfe told reporters after the hearing. "I'm not interested in somebody trying to create a facade to try and distract people from understanding."
Kane, the first woman and the first Democrat to be elected as the state's chief legal officer, has taken some controversial stands since she took office 16 months ago, including her refusal to defend the state's same-sex marriage ban against a federal court challenge.
Kane has said she could not ethically defend the law because she believes it is unconstitutional. An outside legal team hired by Gov. Tom Corbett's Office of General Counsel is handling the case — at rates of up to $400 an hour for the lead attorney.
"Once the attorney general starts deciding which statutes she will defend and which she will not, based on her personal political beliefs, the stability and security of legislative law in the commonwealth are severely threatened. We cannot know what positions she will take on future cases," said James Clymer, a lawyer and longtime political activist from Lancaster.
Metcalfe's proposal cites Kane's refusal to get involved in the same-sex marriage case and her decision to end a legislative sting operation in which four Democratic state lawmakers were allegedly caught on recordings accepting money from a confidential informant. Kane, who inherited the probe when she took office, has said the case was too weak to prosecute.
The committee has yet to vote on Metcalfe's proposal, which he described Tuesday as a work in progress.
The Butler County Republican expressed a desire Tuesday to expand the resolution to include other complaints, including Kane's approval of revisions to reciprocal agreements with Florida, Virginia and Arizona involving concealed-weapon permits issued by those states.
Joshua Prince, a lawyer with the Firearms Industry Consulting Group, a Bechtelsville-based legal group that specializes in gun cases, said Kane lacked the authority to change any such agreement.
Kane had no comment on the hearing, a spokesman said.
The Democratic walkout occurred when Metcalfe ordered security officers to eject O'Brien after he repeatedly interrupted Metcalfe in what O'Brien later said was an attempt to move that the hearing be postponed.
At the beginning of the hearing, a Democratic motion to cancel the hearing was spiked by a 11-10 party-line vote.
Ranking Democrat Rep. Marc Cohen said the proposed resolution seeks to end-run the normal, more formal process for considering impeachments.
"Surely, we have better things to do than waste time and tax dollars on a political witch hunt," the Philadelphia lawmaker said.
Metcalfe said there are no clear rules on impeachments.
"There have been very few impeachments," he said. "There is no strong precedent either way for an impeachment process. For us to set a new precedent is fully within our rights."