Pennsylvania's top prosecutor says justice violated ethics

Associated Press

HARRISBURG — A day after being charged with a second perjury count, Pennsylvania's attorney general said Friday she had reported a state Supreme Court justice for possible ethics violations, citing pornographic, racially offensive or otherwise inappropriate emails he received that were recovered from her office's computer servers.

Attorney General Kathleen Kane released one of several letters she sent Wednesday about Justice Michael Eakin to various state ethics agencies, the latest development in a year-old pornographic email scandal that has spurred a wave of resignations or firings of state officials.

In the letter, Kane wrote that the emails may run afoul of rules that judges must act in a way that promotes public confidence in the judiciary and can't take part in activities that would appear to undermine their independence, integrity and impartiality.

A state courts spokesman said Friday that it had hired a Pittsburgh law firm to look into the matter. Eakin said in a statement issued through the courts that he would cooperate with a judicial ethics investigation, but he otherwise declined to comment.

The emails allegedly involving Eakin were among a batch the attorney general's office said it submitted to the Pennsylvania Supreme Court last fall as the pornographic email scandal began unfolding.

However, a lawyer retained by the court to review the thousands of emails between justices and the state attorney general's office from 2008 through 2012 reported finding no new improprieties at the time.

Kane's release of the letter came one day after she was charged for a second time in an ongoing criminal case against her. Montgomery County prosecutors have charged her with perjury, obstruction and other counts and accused her of leaking secret grand jury material from a 2009 investigation to a newspaper last year and then lying about it.

As she was leaving the courthouse Thursday, Kane made the bombshell allegation that pornographic emails in the scandal involve judges, U.S. attorneys, attorneys general, district attorneys and public defenders. She did not name any other names or release the emails, as she promised to do last week.

Kane, the first woman and first Democrat elected as the state's top prosecutor, has tied the pornographic email scandal she uncovered to the criminal case against her. She has portrayed herself as the victim of an old boys' club determined to stop her from disclosing details about the scandal that involved figures in the state's legal and law enforcement communities.

Eakin, a Republican who joined the court in 2002, is one of the five state Supreme Court justices who voted last week to temporarily suspend Kane's law license, based on allegations in her criminal case.

The emails are allegedly linked to Eakin through a Yahoo email address he opened under the name "John Smith." Kane's spokesman said Friday that the attorney general's office submitted more than 1,000 emails involving Eakin's private email address along with complaint letters to the Court of Judicial Discipline, the State Ethics Commission, the Disciplinary Board of the Supreme Court and the state Supreme Court.

Some of the emails were routine, Kane's spokesman said. However, Kane on Thursday described some as racially offensive and misogynistic pornography.

On Friday, the Philadelphia Daily News reported it had obtained copies of some of the emails and described them as pornographic, or as mocking gays, women, blacks or Mexicans. Several were exchanged between Eakin and a top state prosecutor, it reported.

The newspaper did not say how it had obtained the emails.

The letter Kane sent to the Court of Judicial Discipline's president judge said her office reviewed the emails after it fielded a Sept. 11 inquiry from the Daily News about emails from the Yahoo account.

Kane's letter said lawyers are required to inform appropriate authorities if a judge's action raises questions about his or her fitness for office.

This is the second time Eakin's name has come up in the scandal. Last fall, Eakin notified judicial ethics investigators after the Daily News reported that he had received two pornographic emails and one racially offensive email at the Yahoo address in 2010.

Eakin was never publicly punished.

Previous disclosures by Kane in the scandal have resulted in resignations or firings of former state prosecutors and investigators.

A colleague of Eakin's on the Supreme Court, Justice Seamus McCaffery, retired abruptly last October after a newspaper revealed his role in the email exchanges with state prosecutors and agents.