Pa. Supreme Court Urged to Do Nothing About Porngate Emails — For Now, At Least

An independent report says the Judicial Conduct Board should handle any action on Supreme Court Justice J. Michael Eakin's inflammatory emails.

PA. Supreme Court | Nagel Photography /

PA. Supreme Court | Nagel Photography /

A report commissioned by the Pennsylvania Supreme Court on the Porngate email scandal surrounding current Justice Michael Eakin has urged the court to do nothing — for now, at least.

“After thoroughly reviewing the emails submitted … it is our opinion that there has been no conduct which would constitute the type of extraordinary circumstances to warrant the exercise of the Court’s supervisory authority to take immediate independent disciplinary action against Justice Eakin as a result of the emails that we have reviewed,” says the report from the firm of Joseph Del Sole, a Pittsburgh attorney and former Superior Court judge. Del Sole says the Court should wait for the investigation of the state’s Judicial Conduct Board.

The “Porngate” scandal stems from the feud between recently indicted Pennsylvania attorney general Kathleen Kane and Frank Fina, now a prosecutor in Seth Williams’ office. Kane, who says Fina orchestrated a plot against her, later released a trove of tasteless emails sent to and from state email accounts.

That ensnared Supreme Court Justice Eakin, when it came to light he had sent and received emails on his state account that Kane’s office deemed “pornographic.” The Supreme Court hired Del Sole for a report on those 955 emails. Eakin does not come off well, considering the content of the emails. From the report:

Examples of offensive content that was received by Justice Eakin included:

  • Emails with purported jokes making light of rape and sexual assault. For example, a “motivational poster” with a photograph of an unconscious college-age woman with the caption “Alcohol: Thank you, Mr. Daniels. Thank you, Mr. Guinness. Muchas Gracias, Señor Tequila.” The same email included other offensive “motivational posters.” Another email had a joke which referred to asking a woman to smell a chloroform laced rag as a “pick-up line.”
  • Emails with negative stereotypes of African-Americans. These include purported jokes and short videos;
  • Emails demeaning to Latinos and in particular to Mexican immigrants. One video depicted a person who claimed to need day-laborers loading a truck full of Latino men and driving them at high speed over a rough road to an INS office;
  • Emails with jokes offensive to Muslims; and
  • Emails with jokes offensive to homosexuals.

Still, the content of those emails shouldn’t lead to immediate action, per Del Sole’s report. “This determination is not an endorsement of the content of the emails contained in Justin Eakin’s ‘John Smith’ account,” it says. “To the contrary, many of those emails are offensive, tasteless, insensitive, juvenile and repugnant to reasonable sensibilities. They raise legitimate and substantial questions whether they fall within conduct proscribed by the Canons and Rules of Conduct. That determination, however, should be made pursuant to the process set forth by Article V, §18 of the Pennsylvania Constitution [the Judicial Conduct Board].”

The report says that nothing in the emails “reveals illegal activity or conduct that could undermine the sanctity of the judicial process.” Pa. Supreme Court Justice Debra Todd released a statement agreeing with the report’s findings and criticizing the content of the emails.

“I have reviewed all of the emails provided by the Office of the Attorney General, and I am disappointed and offended, both personally and professionally, by much of the content,” she said in the statement released alongside the report. “The email exchanges contain offensive images, comments, and ‘jokes,’ some of which are sexually explicit and demeaning to women. Some trivialize physical and sexual assault. I am equally offended by the derogatory stereotyping and mocking of racial, ethnic, and religious groups, as well as gays and lesbians.”

Kathleen Kane issued her own statement, too. “I am pleased that the review of emails conducted by Joseph Del Sole on behalf of the Supreme Court agrees that they are ‘detrimental to the judicial system’ and ‘could cause a reasonable person to question the impartiality of a judge and the judicial system,'” she said in a statement emailed to reporters. “To those who view them, they ‘offend,’ as Justice Todd wrote in her concurring opinion, by ‘trivializing physical and sexual assault’; they offend ‘by the derogatory stereotyping and mocking of racial, ethnic, and religious groups, as well as gays and lesbians.'”

But that’s not all. Justice Correale F. Stevens, in his statement on the report, said that the fact that the emails originally came from Kane should not overshadow their content: “The content of the emails and the impact of that content on the Court, lawyers and the public must be explored. It is irrelevant how and when the emails in question recently became public. The fact is that the emails exist, are being questioned, and must be addressed.” He adds that a person “could reasonably conclude the [Judicial Conduct Board] did not fully investigate this matter a year ago when it had the opportunity to do so.”

The full report from Del Sole’s firm is below.

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