The Intersection of Politics and Law Enforcement

DebateOver the past several months, an investigating grand jury convened in Montgomery County, has been hearing testimony and reviewing evidence to determine whether Pennsylvania Attorney General Kathleen Kane violated grand jury secrecy laws when she disclosed the results of an earlier investigation in an effort to discredit her political foes.  Grand jury investigations are strictly confidential, and can only be divulged when authorized by court order.

In December, the grand jury found “reasonable grounds to believe that various violations of the criminal laws have occurred” regarding its investigation into Attorney General Kane.  The decision of whether to charge the Attorney General now falls to Montgomery County District Attorney Risa Vetri Ferman.

Grand juries in Pennsylvania, unlike the majority of states, are typically tasked with investigating crimes.  The Kane investigation is unique, however, due to the unusual circumstances under which it was tasked with its mission.  Because the target of the investigation is the current Attorney General, presiding Judge William Carpenter unilaterally appointed a special prosecutor, private attorney Thomas Carluccio, Esquire, to conduct the inquiry.

General Kane filed with the Supreme Court of Pa. a challenge to Judge Carpenter’s appointment of the special prosecutor.  The Attorney General argues that current Pennsylvania law does not permit the appointment of independent counsel to conduct a grand jury investigation, and that Judge Carpenter’s appointment of a special prosecutor infringed on the exclusive powers of the District Attorney and Attorney General to direct an investigating grand jury.  Judge Carpenter and Mr. Carluccio are expected to respond shortly, and are likely to cite the recent examples of several Pennsylvania judges, who appointed special prosecutors to ensure the secrecy of especially sensitive investigations with the approval of the Pennsylvania Supreme Court.  Recently, the Court has temporarily stayed District Attorney Ferman from acting on the presentment, and has scheduled oral argument on March 11, 2015.

This case raises interesting issues about the intersection between law enforcement and politics, and the interplay between the several cooperating (and sometimes competing) authorities charged with enforcing the law.  It can be easy to forget that the District Attorney and Attorney General are elected officials, and are inevitably influenced by political considerations.  Does this necessitate special counsel in certain situations?  Or do the overlapping powers of the various law enforcement authorities ensure that there will always be independent checks and balances?   It is an interesting debate.

Posted on January 17, 2015, in Business/Corporate Law, Criminal Law and tagged , . Bookmark the permalink. Comments Off on The Intersection of Politics and Law Enforcement.

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