Eakin due in court for hearing, suspension possible
HARRISBURG — A member of the state Supreme Court is expected to appear in an eastern Pennsylvania courtroom for a hearing into whether he should be suspended while a judicial ethics court considers whether his email practices warrant discipline.
The hearing inside the county courthouse in Easton on Monday will give Justice Michael Eakin a chance to argue against his possible interim suspension by the Court of Judicial Discipline.
The Judicial Conduct Board filed charges against Eakin this month, accusing him of trading emails that someone of reasonable sensitivity would find objectionable. The board, which acts as investigator and prosecutor, alleged that Eakin did not respect the court system’s nondiscrimination policy and that he detracted from the dignity of his office.
In a response filed this week, Eakin’s lawyers argued against suspension, describing the emails as male banter that was not intended to become public, noting that he did not send emails that contained pornography and arguing he did not discuss court business or give his views on legal or political matters.
Eakin, 67, a Republican who has been on the high court since 2002, is a former Cumberland County district attorney.
The Judicial Conduct Board said Eakin sent or responded to emails including video about busloads of “sluts” crashing in California and jokes about domestic violence and Tiger Woods’ African-American and Asian background. His own lawyers have acknowledged he also sent several “inappropriate and chauvinistic” emails about visiting strip clubs on annual golf trips and an exchange “containing inappropriate sexual innuendo about specific women.”
The board cited email content that included photos of nude women, sexually suggestive themes, gender and socioeconomic stereotypes, anti-gay content, and violence toward women.
Court of Judicial Discipline Judge Jack Panella, in an order setting up the hearing in Easton, said the emails could result in “grave damage to the public’s confidence in and integrity of the Pennsylvania judiciary.” He described allegations Eakin used government computers to exchange “sexually explicit, misogynist, racist or homophobic images.”
The exchange of emails by public officials became known last year, through an internal investigation ordered by Attorney General Kathleen Kane into how her office handled the Jerry Sandusky child molestation investigation. Another justice, Seamus McCaffery, retired abruptly a year ago after being suspended by his fellow justices, in part because of his role in the email exchanges. Dozens of others have been disciplined, fired or forced to resign over their participation.
Eakin was cleared by the Judicial Conduct Board a year ago, but Kane produced additional emails in recent months, prompting a new investigation that led to the charges he is currently defending against.