Pennsylvania AG's Impeachment Hearing Turns Messy Fast

Wednesday, 07 May 2014 01:49 PM

By Andrew Staub, PA Independent

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Pennsylvania state Rep. Daryl Metcalfe's quest to impeach Attorney General Kathleen Kane quickly turned into a lopsided affair Tuesday, when Democratic lawmakers on the House State Government Committee walked out of a hearing on the matter.

"Have your kangaroo court, pal," state Rep. Michael O'Brien, D-Philadelphia, said as Democrats filed out.

That left just Metcalfe, R-Butler, and his fellow Republicans to hear from a contingent of conservatives largely critical of Kane, the first Democrat to hold the position since it became an elective office in 1980.

Metcalfe has been clamoring for Kane's impeachment since last fall, citing her "misbehavior" in office. He's focused mostly on Kane's refusal to defend a legal challenge to Pennsylvania's ban on same-sex marriage because she believes the state law is "wholly unconstitutional."

Metcalfe, chairman of the House government committee, said he was interested to hear how Democratic lawmakers would defend Kane's "very little regard" for state law. He didn't get much of a chance.

The hearing quickly turned messy when Democratic chairman Mark Cohen's attempt to have the meeting immediately adjourned failed. As the hearing moved forward, O'Brien tried to make a motion, only to have Metcalfe streamroll over the request and call him out of order.

O'Brien kept talking.

"Security, please remove Rep. O'Brien from this hearing. Now," Metcalfe said, his words tangling with O'Brien's. "I have the authority. Go check with the speaker."

Security advanced on O'Brien, but they didn't get a chance to drag him out. All the Democrats walked out instead.

"They clearly are not able to defend [Kane]," Metcalfe said. "So instead, they chose to run and leave this committee hearing today hoping to keep the people of Pennsylvania from hearing this."

Kane's office declined to comment on the hearing, and she wasn't invited to attend. Without Democratic members there to voice support, the debate turned one-sided quickly.

While the Office of General Counsel has taken up the defense of the state's Defense of Marriage Act, Metcalfe contends Kane has violated the Commonwealth Attorneys Act.

That law states that the attorney general has a duty "to uphold and defend the constitutionality of all statutes so as to prevent their suspension or abrogation in the absence of a controlling decision by a court of competent jurisdiction."

Lawmakers and those testifying said they worried Kane's refusal to defend Pennsylvania's DOMA could lead to a "slippery slope." Some wondered what would happen if, for example, police decided they didn't want to enforce DUI laws because they didn't agree with them.

Such a mentality would bring "chaos" and "tyranny," said Michael Bekesha, an attorney with Judicial Watch, a conservative watchdog group. He questioned whether Kane was sincere when taking the oath of office in January 2013.

"She must have had her fingers crossed because less than six months later she openly defied her most important duty as attorney general — upholding and defending the duly enacted laws of the commonwealth," Bekesha said.

The committee did not vote on Metcalfe's impeachment resolution. It still needs to clear the committee before it can go before the state House of Representatives, which has the sole power of impeachment under Pennsylvania's constitution. The state Senate tries impeachments.

Before the Democrats bolted, Cohen argued that Metcalfe isn't following proper protocol and that his qualms with Kane are rooted in partisan disagreements.

"Impeaching for political reasons is never a good idea," Cohen said. "Using this committee and this Legislature to settle political grievances is even worse."


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