AP NEWS

Judges Face Ethics Review Over Emails Found In AG’s Office

November 23, 2016 GMT

HARRISBURG — Several unnamed judges face an ethics review following the latest report Tuesday on the circulation of pornographic and offensive emails found on servers in the state attorney general’s office.

Attorney General Bruce Beemer is forwarding names of the judges as well as a number of other government employees who sent offensive emails to their respective employers or oversight panels. No state appeals judges are mentioned in the report, he added.

The state Judicial Conduct Board said it would conduct an independent examination of the emails involving the judges.

The judicial board’s announcement is the latest fallout from a scandal involving porn email on AG servers that has shaken Harrisburg during the past two years.

On a larger point, Beemer said the report commissioned by his predecessor Kathleen Kane shows no new evidence of a conspiracy involving judges, prosecutors and attorneys that could undermine the dispensing of justice in Pennsylvania.

“The findings of this report provide absolutely no new evidence to leave citizens of Pennsylvania questioning their faith in that system,” said Beemer at a Capitol press conference.

The report doesn’t support Kane’s assertion that justice has suffered because of an “old boys network” whose members have troubling attitudes about women and minorities, he said.

The report was released several months after Kane of Waverly Township resigned her office after her conviction on perjury and related counts.

Beemer spent considerable time explaining why his agency decided to redact the names of individuals mentioned in the report.

He said releasing the names would cause unfair damage to people’s reputations and leave the attorney general’s office open to lawsuits.

“I don’t want the next attorney general to spend the next two years dealing with lawsuits or fallout,” added Beemer.

Capitol activist Gene Stilp said the names of those mentioned in the report should be made public.

“It’s better if people know who these people are,” he said. “You can’t have a lack of transparency in the attorney general’s office.”

The outside communications between judges, prosecutors and defense attorneys demonstrate a dangerous degree of impropriety, said Sen. Daylin Leach, D-King of Prussia, ranking Democrat on the Senate Judiciary Committee.

“Where emails reveal an unprofessional relationship between a judge and a prosecutor working on the same case, the defendant deserves a chance to argue that the relationship affected the case’s outcome,” he said.

The report was complied by BuckleySander LLP, a Washington, D.C., law firm, at a cost so far of $385,000.

The report found 38 individuals who sent 50 or more inappropriate emails.

Of more than six million emails examined from 2008 to 2015, the firm highlighted nearly 12,000 emails as inappropriate. Of that number, 25 percent contained obscene material or nudity.

“People continue to refer to this as the porn report when the vast majority of information in it is not pornographic at all,” said Beemer.

He said emails where breast cancer survivors discussed self-detection tips were flagged as inappropriate, for example.

The report’s release marks the sixth time during the last two years that batches of offensive emails found on AG servers have been released publicly in one manner or another. Kane learned of the emails while reviewing the handling of the investigation of convicted child sex abuser Jerry Sandusky, a former Penn State football coach.

The uproar over the emails led to the ouster of Supreme Court Justices Seamus McCaffery and Michael Eakin during the past two years.

Meanwhile, the attorney general’s office has installed email filtering and internet monitoring systems since the scandal broke.

The report recommends that steps be taken to root out judicial misconduct, including making it easier for citizens to file complaints.

rswift@timesshamrock.com