Pennsylvania AG Fires Official Who Testified in Her Case

by | April 9, 2015

By Brad Bumsted

Attorney General Kathleen Kane fired the head of her appeals office Wednesday and had armed agents escort him from the office.

Kane spokeswoman Carolyn Myers said James Barker's firing was part of a restructuring of the criminal division.

Barker told the Tribune-Review he testified before a statewide grand jury in Norristown that investigated Kane. He said he was under a "protective order" that was supposed to prevent retaliation against witnesses. The Philadelphia Inquirer reported last month that several current and former Kane staffers testified. The grand jury has recommended criminal charges against Kane in connection with leaked information about a previous grand jury case.

Asked whether Barker did anything wrong, Myers said: "I cannot say that." Myers said his firing was "absolutely not" related to his testifying.

Barker also was responsible for statewide grand juries.

"I don't believe I did anything wrong," Barker said. "I don't know why I was fired. My firing was the first anyone heard anything about a restructuring" of the criminal division, he said.

Asked if he would file a lawsuit to contest his firing, Barker said, "I guess that's something I'd have to think about."

He said he couldn't discuss his grand jury testimony because of the protective order.

"He's an excellent appellate lawyer," said Kevin Harley, former press secretary for ex-governor and former attorney general Tom Corbett. "(Barker) was an asset to the office. He will be missed."

Myers said Barker's ousting is part of an ongoing "restructuring of the criminal law division, which is responsible for protecting 13 million people."

Officials said it is typical procedure for attorney general staffers who are fired to be led to the door by agents, who are always armed.

Barker's departure is the latest in Kane's staff turnover. Four aides quit last year as the grand jury investigated Kane, and she replaced five spokespeople since 2013, including one who quit in February.

Montgomery County District Attorney Risa Vetri Ferman will decide whether to press charges recommended by the statewide grand jury related to allegations that Kane leaked confidential material to embarrass a former prosecutor with whom she publicly feuded. The charges include perjury, obstruction of justice and official oppression.

The Pennsylvania Supreme Court last month rejected Kane's challenge to the grand jury's legality.

Last week, her chief of staff, Blake Rutherford, joined a line of departed staffers by resigning after four months on the job.

Kane has been mired in other controversies, including the so-called legislative "sting case" she declined to prosecute despite videotapes of lawmakers accepting cash. Philadelphia District Attorney Seth Williams took the case to a grand jury and charged six current and former officials with bribery.

The state typically uses investigative grand juries in Norristown, Harrisburg and Pittsburgh. Kane had not renewed the grand jury in Norristown or Harrisburg, the Tribune-Review reported last week. Her office first declined to comment but later said paperwork would be sent to Supreme Court Chief Justice Thomas Saylor for approval.

The grand jury in Norristown had outstanding business and did not meet since January, Montgomery County Judge William Carpenter told the Trib.

(c)2015 The Pittsburgh Tribune-Review (Greensburg, Pa.)