Pennsylvania attorney general goes on trial in leak case

August 8, 2016 6:08 AM EDT

Pennsylvania Attorney General Kathleen Kane congratulates Governor Tom Wolf following his inauguration ceremony at the State Capitol in Harrisburg, January 20, 2015. REUTERS/Mark Makela

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By David DeKok

HARRISBURG, Pa. (Reuters) - Pennsylvania Attorney General Kathleen Kane will go on trial on Monday on charges that she illegally leaked grand jury information to embarrass a rival, closing out a four-year term dominated by a web of allegations that have roiled the state government.

Kane, 50, says she has broken no laws and is expected to offer a vigorous defense against perjury and obstruction charges when testimony begins this week in Montgomery County Court of Common Pleas in Norristown, a suburb of Philadelphia.

Kane argues prosecutors were using the criminal investigation to stop her from releasing offensive e-mails exchanged among state prosecutors, judges and other officials. She discovered the emails, some of them with racist and sexually explicit content, on her office server during a separate investigation.

"I don't plan on being convicted because I'm very confident in the jury system," she said last month. "I'm confident that once the jury hears the entire truth, they will return a not-guilty verdict."

Kane, who remains in office even though her license to practice law has been suspended, is the first woman and first Democrat to be elected since 1980, when the job first became an elected position. She announced earlier this year that she would not seek re-election in November.

Judge Wendy Demchick-Alloy ruled that witnesses at her trial could not mention the e-mail scandal during their testimony, and that Kane could not claim to have been the victim of selective prosecution. Last spring, Kane had called the e-mails "critical to my defense."

District Attorney Kevin Steele had urged the judge to limit testimony to the alleged grand jury leak and the question of whether Kane had lied.

"Any reference to pornography during the defendant's trial would be completely irrelevant and offered strictly for the purpose of issue confusion, misleading the jury, and/or delay," Steele said in court papers.

Kane has not revealed whether she was planning to testify, indicating that her decision would depend on the case the prosecution lays out.

Prosecutors say Kane illegally released grand jury information in 2014 to embarrass Frank Fina, whom she believed had provided a newspaper with information to embarrass her. Fina was closely involved in the prosecution of Jerry Sandusky, the former Penn State assistant football coach who was convicted of sexually assaulting boys in his care.

The attorney general's release of the e-mails forced two state Supreme Court justices and several present or former state officials, including Fina, to resign in embarrassment.

If convicted of the most serious charge, Kane would face up to seven years in prison and be removed from office.

(Editing by Frank McGurty and Alan Crosby)

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