Another State Attorney General to Face Criminal Charges

In the U.S., every state’s attorney general serves as the chief legal advisor to their state government, and they are recognized as their state's chief law enforcement officer. How sad, then, when one of them is accused of serious crimes that demonstrate the ultimate betrayal of public trust.

In this case, however, it is worse than that. Not just one state attorney general, but two of them are now facing criminal action: Texas’s Ken Paxton and, more recently, Pennsylvania’s Kathleen Kane. Both are still sitting attorneys general for their respective states. And while the Paxton case has been simmering for months, the news of charges against Kane just broke this week.

Paxton’s trouble appears to be of the very serious kind. He has been indicted for felony securities fraud, with charges that carry a range of imprisonment of 5 to 99 years if he is convicted. He was arrested and booked earlier this week, though released on bail. His next court date is August 27.

The latest developments for Paxton have been a few years in the works. An article in the New York Times explores the watchdog group that helped break open the case against the AG. In “Texas Watchdog Group Calls Another Political Titan to Account,” Manny Fernandez writes:

Those brief letters by Mr. McDonald — the complaint against Mr. Paxton alleging he violated state securities law was a single page — turned the key in the Texas court system that led to the involvement of prosecutors, judges and grand juries. Filing complaints directly with prosecutors is not unique to Texas: An official with the National District Attorneys Association said most states allowed local prosecutors to initiate cases based on citizen complaints and allegations.

“We don’t set out to turn our elected officials into criminals,” said Mr. McDonald, the former national field organizer for Public Citizen, the advocacy group founded by Ralph Nader. “We merely, in both of these cases, plus the Tom DeLay case, thought we witnessed a crime and we called the cops. And we think as a watchdog that’s our role.”

Paxton’s situation was still boiling in news headlines when the allegations against his peer in the northeast – Pennsylvania’s Kane – came to the surface. In Kane’s case, the charges revolve around the alleged leaking of memos – and obstruction of justice. According to an article in USA Today:

Kane, 49, was charged with perjury, conspiracy, obstructing justice, official oppression and false swearing stemming from an investigation that began more than a year ago. Her driver, Patrick Reese, was charged with aiding the cover-up.

"Kane orchestrated the leak ... to the media through a political operative for the purpose of retaliating against former state prosecutors whom she believed had embarrassed her in the press," Montgomery County District Attorney Risa Vetri Ferman said. She added that Kane "undertook these actions seeking vengeance and retribution against other law enforcement professionals."

In undermines the confidence we hold in our public servants when our highest ranking law enforcement officials commit the types of crimes we expect them to be prosecuting. Obviously, these two state attorneys general deserve due process and are innocent until proven guilty. With that said, the cloud of suspicion lends to the old saying, “where there is smoke, there is fire.”

Let’s just hope both Texas and Pennsylvania can get their houses in order and ensure that the tops of their law enforcement chains are worthy of their citizens’ trust.