- Associated Press - Tuesday, November 24, 2015

HARRISBURG, Pa. (AP) - The board that investigates misconduct allegations against Pennsylvania judges said Tuesday it will soon decide whether charges are warranted against state Supreme Court Justice Michael Eakin over his email practices.

Eakin is under investigation for his role in an explicit email ring that also involved other judges and the state attorney general’s office. He has publicly apologized for what he described as insensitive and out-of-character emails from an account at Yahoo.com under the name “John Smith.”

The Judicial Conduct Board wrote Eakin’s lawyer to say its rules probably did not permit them to stop an investigation and send the case directly to the Court of Judicial Discipline, as Eakin requested.

“The board’s completion of the investigation is necessary to fulfill our responsibility to determine if probable cause exists to file formal charges in the Court of Judicial Discipline and, if appropriate, present the case in support of the charges,” wrote board member James Schwartzman, who signed the letter to Eakin lawyer Bill Costopoulos. “The board will not abdicate its duties and responsibilities.”

Schwartzman said the investigation “is almost complete and (the board) hopes to reach a decision on whether to file a complaint in the near future.”

The charges the board brings are not criminal charges. If the court determines there is sufficient evidence of misconduct, it can impose discipline that includes reprimand, suspension with or without pay, or permanent removal from office.

Costopoulos asked the board last week to immediately “remove the matter” to the Court of Judicial Discipline to alleviate mistrust of the process.

The board’s chief counsel, Bob Graci, and chairwoman, District Judge Jayne Duncan, have both stepped aside from the Eakin case.

A newspaper reported that another board member received pornographic images in an email from then-Justice Seamus McCaffery, who abruptly retired a year ago after his fellow justices suspended him.

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