PHILADELPHIA (CN) - Pennsylvania's indicted attorney general now faces a federal retaliation suit by state officials who say they criticized Kathleen Kane's abuse of her position.
"Upon assuming office, defendant Kane has misused the power of her office, and its publicly funded resources, for the purpose of silencing her critics through a pattern of intimidation, attempted blackmail, and vindictive retaliation against those persons who have lawfully exposed defendant Kane's falsehoods, unlawful activities, and violations of her oath of office," the civil complaint filed Thursday states.
Four former state prosecutors - E. Marc Costanzo, Randy Feathers, Frank Fina and Richard Sheetz Jr. - filed the lawsuit along with Frank Noonan, a former commissioner of the state police force.
They note that Kane assumed office in 2013 after campaigning on what she described as incompetent investigation by her predecessor and his staff into the massive child sex-abuse scandal involving Penn State football coach Jerry Sandusky.
When the plaintiffs tried to defend themselves against Kane's accusations after the election, the new AG "began to use the estimable power of her office to retaliate and punish the plaintiffs," the 61-page complaint states.
In addition to Kane, the suit names as defendants the Philadelphia Daily News, reporter Christopher Brennan and the paper's parent company Philadelphia Media Network.
The suit alleges that Kane illegally leaked staff emails and grand jury information.
New emails are still being leaked as Kane fights criminal charges of perjury, obstruction of justice and other crimes related to the 2009 grand jury investigation she convened. Sandusky was sentenced in 2012 to decades in prison for a campaign abusing minors that spanned at least 18 years.
Kane's investigation of the Sandusky prosecution revealed hundreds of pornographic emails that state officials and judges exchanged.
The media's publication of these staffer emails, which included pornography and jokes about Muslims, blacks and gays, has come to be known as porngate.
Former Pennsylvania Supreme Court Chief Justice Seamus McCaffrey retired this year when his role in the scandal broke, but Justice Michael Eakin is still holding on to his seat.
"While some of these emails were offensive, irreverent and in bad taste, there was nothing illegal in their content," the suit says.
The plaintiffs note that Kane also appeared on CNN and accused them of looking at child pornography.
They also say Kane purposefully thwarted a bribery investigation into Philadelphia public officials because of a conflict of interest between the government agent and a friend who assisted her campaign.
Though Kane publicly questioned whether racism motivated the bribery investigation, since all of the targeted elected officials were black, the plaintiffs say she fabricated the reasoning and leaked it to the media to damage the prosecutors.
Philadelphia District Attorney Seth Williams later convicted six officials and charged two more.
The plaintiffs seek punitive damages for free-speech retaliation, defamation and false light. They are represented by Mark Tanner of Feldman Shepherd Wohlgelernter Tanner Weinstock & Dodig.
Subscribe to Closing Arguments
Sign up for new weekly newsletter Closing Arguments to get the latest about ongoing trials, major litigation and hot cases and rulings in courthouses around the U.S. and the world.