Prosecutorial roots lay beneath common ground for Pennsylvania opponents

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July 29, 2012

By Maresa Strano

Pennsylvania

HARRISBURG, Pennsylvania: The Keystone state has been alternately basking and sweating under the national spotlight ever since the Sandusky scandal broke three years ago. With the trial and verdict now in the rear-view mirror, at least some of that attention will give way to the upcoming statewide elections, particularly the race for attorney general, the seminal office in the case and, going forward, the way the state will remedy the various problems in the justice system that the case brought to light.

One fallout matter, addressing Pennsylvania's long overdue need to pass a law permitting experts to testify on behalf of victims in sexual abuse cases, was resolved in the immediate aftermath of the Sandusky conviction with the expert witness law receiving a hearty push in the state legislature and ceremonial approval by Governor Tom Corbett (R). Another matter, addressing the attorney general's office's handling of the Sandusky investigation and ensuing trial, is still up for debate between the two candidates for seeking to replace Corbett appointee Linda Kelly as attorney general.

This November, Cumberland County District Attorney and Republican party darling David Freed will square off with former Lackawanna prosecutor and Democratic primary winner Kathleen Kane for the job of Pennsylvania's top lawyer. Their respective campaigns have portrayed the candidates' opposing ideologies and partisan allegiances on buzz-worthy topics like whether there ought to be a review of the department's use of grand jury investigation in the Sandusky case, the state's controversial new voter-ID law, and the constitutionality of the federal health care overhaul.[1][2] While they disagree on many issues, Freed and Kane have also found common ground on a handful of issues touching on their shared backgrounds as courtroom prosecutors. These issues include, but are not limited to:

  • Eliminating the statute of limitations for childhood sexual abuse cases

Three bills dedicated to this cause - House Bill 2488 and amended versions of House Bills 832 and 878 - have been drafted and successfully vetted by the House Justice Committee. In an July 18 Op-Ed published in Lehigh Valley's newspaper The Morning Call Freed wrote that together, the bills would do away with the statute of limitations for child sex abuse criminal cases, "raise the statute from age 30 to age 50 for civil cases and cap the percentage a lawyer can collect in successful suits."[3]

As Freed has done in Cumberland County, Kane prosecuted numerous child sex abuse cases during her time as former Assistant District Attorney for Lackawanna County. They have both cited repealing the statute of limitations as priorities for their campaigns. Freed's advocacy for sex abuse victims has gained traction post-Sandusky, whereas Kane made it a theme early on; in December, 2011, Kane spoke out against the statute of limitations with an entreaty to Gov. Corbett to do something to change the law, which she called arbitrary. "I believe law enforcement must be provided the legal means to arrest and prosecute sexual offenders, regardless if the crime occurred a week ago or decades ago," Kane said in one her first campaign press releases.[4][5]

  • Easing current restrictions on wiretapping

Both candidates have criticized the state's laws on wiretapping, which dictate the admission requirements of incriminating recordings as evidence in the courtroom. Currently, audio or video proof of criminal activity is legally immaterial if captured without the advance knowledge and permission of the parties being recorded. The growing prevalence of smart phones and other easy-recording technologies have resulted in a corresponding increase in incriminating recordings.[6] Freed and Kane agree that the laws are out of date and support a bill to overhaul the laws after 14 years of stagnancy.

In a recent interview with the Associated Press, Freed said that incontrovertible proof should not be denied in court based on a lack of mutual consent. "The possibility is certainly out there that people can record themselves being victimized on their ... smartphones and that could be valid evidence that we're artificially unable to use."[6] Kane also registered her support of the pending House bill which will, "among other things, allow conversations to be recorded anywhere "so long as a notice about the possibility of being recorded is posted."[7] She said that she wants to see updated laws regulating audio recordings, and noted "that video recordings are ubiquitous nowadays."[7]

  • Political corruption cases

Kane and Freed agree that they would use the attorney general's office to cultivate partnerships with district attorneys and the U.S. Attorney General to ensure against jurisdictional constraints and conflicts of interest in the investigation and prosecution of corrupt public officials. “Political corruption cases are no place for a prosecutorial ‘turf-war’ to be waged,” Kane said in response to a questionnaire distributed by The Legal Intelligencer in April.[8] Responding to the same questionnaire, Freed also emphasized the importance of seeking justice over personal glory with respect to political corruption cases. Despite having faith in district attorneys to notify the attorney general as needed, Freed would like to see a law requiring district attorneys to report all corruption cases to the Attorney General's Office so together they can coordinate an optimal course for investigating and positioning the case, without the risk of a potential 'turf-war', as Kane mentioned. "For various reasons including evidence, resources, witnesses, use of or a need for a grand jury, each case is unique," and deserves to be positioned according to its unique conditions.[9]


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