Kathleen Kane delivers a press conference in August after charges are filed against her. Credit: Screenshot via livestream

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Read the news of the day in less than 10 minutes — not that we’re counting.

Yes, she’s been indicted. OK, her law license is suspended. Sure, she’s facing impeachment.

That doesn’t mean Pa. Attorney General Kathleen Kane isn’t something of an imperfect feminist icon. In fact, female leaders across the state say feminists should pay attention to the fight she’s waging on behalf of women.

“She is doing a thing that many feminists are excited about,” said Kati Sipp, director of PA Working Families, “which is to kind of keep pushing through what are really some vitriolic attacks on her in order to expose this group of men who have been perpetuating a very anti-woman culture.”

About 18 months ago, Geoff Moulton, a special prosecutor hired by Kane to investigate the probe into Penn State and Jerry Sandusky, finished his extensive report. To do it, his team pored through thousands of emails sent to and received by the attorney general’s office employees under former AG Tom Corbett. Since then, news has trickled out that dozens of political figures and judicial system employees were involved in passing around emails that in many cases have been pornographic or misogynistic in nature.

One of the emails uncovered by Kane’s team.
One of the emails uncovered by Kane’s team. Credit: Anna Orso/Billy Penn

Employees were fired from the state Office of the Attorney General. One Supreme Court justice was implicated and resigned. Another, Justice Michael Eakin, will face a public trial before a judicial discipline board after he apparently sent emails with sexual commentary and notes about strip clubs. According to The Inquirer, he at one point wrote that “he had ‘a stake’ of 50 one-dollar bills to give strippers – to resolve his ‘titty-deficit.’”

Here in Philadelphia, calls have come from politicians and activists for District Attorney Seth Williams to fire three prosecutors who passed around, sent or received pornographic emails from their work computers while they were working in the Office of the Attorney General. Williams had each receive sensitivity training and shifted them out of prosecutorial positions, but they still remain under fire.

Philadelphia Councilwoman Cindy Bass, who represents the 8th council district, introduced a resolution in City Council that urged Williams to fire the three men. After she was joined by other female council members in a press conference introducing the resolution, it passed the full Council with just two council members — Republicans David Oh and Brian O’Neill — voting against it.

“We owe a debt of gratitude to Kathleen Kane,” Bass said in an interview this week. “Because if it weren’t for her, then I am certain we never would have known anything about any of these emails.”

Bass’ resolution also urged the Office of the Attorney General to appoint a special prosecutor to continue investigating the emails, and Kane did just that. At the National Constitution Center in Philadelphia, Kane announced the appointment of former Maryland Attorney General Douglas Gansler, who will lead a team of special prosecutors who will page through thousands of emails, search for potentially illegal or unethical messaging and accordingly charge anyone who breaks a law.

The probe, which could cost in the ballpark of $2 million worth of taxpayer money, has full subpoena and grand jury power, and is expected to take about a year. Gansler said at the press conference when Kane didn’t take questions from the media that he doesn’t know if any emails sent by public official broke laws, but if they did — whether it’s illegal communications with judges or the sending of child porn — they stand to be prosecuted.

The same day, Kane reiterated a stance she’s taken in the past since charges came down on her for allegedly leaking grand jury information to The Daily News in order to embarrass a political foe: She says that she has been targeted by the “old boys’ club” in Harrisburg, or the network of (largely white) men who have run the political system in Pennsylvania for decades.

“No woman should go to work and be subjected to consistent treatment of disgusting indignity by woman haters,” Kane said, “because they were born with one less body part, which, the last I heard, does not contain any extra brain cells.”

In fact, the top of her website truthaboutkathleenkane.com looks like this:

Screen Shot 2015-12-09 at 2.36.04 PM
Credit: Screenshot

It’s true that women are largely underrepresented in state and local governments. Kane is the only woman in Pennsylvania to hold elected statewide office, and currently zero women represent the state in its Senate and Congressional delegations. The Inquirer recently reported that women hold only 25 percent of the seats on local boards and councils in Philadelphia and surrounding counties.

Sipp pointed to a recent Daily News article in which former state Rep. Bill DeWeese, who was convicted of corruption in the Bonusgate scandal for paying staffers state wages to work on his campaign, called out Frank Fina, one of the three prosecutors still currently working in the Philadelphia District Attorney’s office. DeWeese told the Daily News that Fina, the same guy who once sent pornographic emails to his colleagues, was also fixated on what he thought was a legislative assistant using money on breast augmentation surgery.

DeWeese recalled Fina saying: “‘That’s the only good thing that ever came out of Bonusgate: At least the Pennsylvania taxpayers got a great set of tits.’” Apparently after the comment was made, Fina and the other men in the room simply smiled.

“Kathleen Kane has done the women of the state a big favor by exposing this hornets’ nest of racism and sexism and homophobia,” said Caryn Hunt, executive director of the Pennsylvania chapter of the National Organization for Women. “This email scandal has shown us for a fact that there are sexist — deeply sexist, deeply misogynistic — attitudes among a network of men in law enforcement.”


Nina Ahmad, president of the Philadelphia chapter of NOW and soon-to-be deputy mayor for public engagement under Mayor-elect Jim Kenney, said she agreed and is thankful to Kane for exposing the “disgraceful” behavior of some members of the state political and law enforcement network.

“She has been a huge asset to the women in Pennsylvania…” Ahmad said. “People who fight for other people, specifically the half of our population that are women, that makes one a feminist.”

Democratic Senate candidate Katie McGinty, a Philadelphia native, stopped short of saying she fully supports Kane as attorney general, but did say that “it’s essential that this be dealt with and be dealt with all the way.”

“What has come to light is incredibly important and incredibly disturbing in that the system of justice in Pennsylvania demands that these guys get rooted out,” McGinty said. “We can’t have confidence in the law and in our courts with cretins like this sitting in high office.”

For Kathleen Kane, the next chapter is surviving a review from the state Senate — impeachment and removal from statewide office is a long process that would require action from a large contingent of state politicians who can’t seem to agree on much. She’ll also attempt to see through Gansler’s investigation and full report.

Meanwhile, her efforts still have some supporters, whether they’re people who would vote for her in the future for political office, or they’re feminists who stand behind her cause of rooting out sexism in the state’s highest offices.

“The stuff that she’s doing needs doing, and it takes a strong woman to stand up and survive those attacks and keep exposing this stuff,” Sipp said. “Does that mean I 100 percent endorse everything she’s doing? No.”

Billy Penn reporter Mark Dent contributed to this article.

Anna Orso was a reporter/curator at Billy Penn from 2014 to 2017.