- Associated Press - Monday, October 12, 2015

HARRISBURG, Pa. (AP) - Justices on the Pennsylvania Supreme Court said Monday they were “disturbed” by revelations about the content of alleged email exchanges of explicit photos or offensive jokes between prosecutors and one of their colleagues, Justice Michael Eakin.

The court’s statement came two weeks after Attorney General Kathleen Kane submitted a batch of emails to the court and various state ethics agencies, describing some of the more than 1,000 emails sent to Eakin’s private Yahoo email account as racially offensive and misogynistic pornography.

The emails linked to Eakin are the latest turn in an email scandal uncovered by Kane that has spurred a wave of resignations or firings of state officials, including another state Supreme Court justice. Some details of the purported emails linked to Eakin have surfaced in the Philadelphia Daily News.

“Members of the Supreme Court are disturbed by the content of the emails, as reported by the media,” the state Supreme Court said in the statement.

Meanwhile, lawyers and law professors say that Eakin’s involvement in the email-swapping culture with prosecutors, if true, raises serious questions about his independence, sensitivity and impartiality toward defendants.

A lawyer the courts hired last year to look into revelations of email swapping between prosecutors and justices did not have some of the Eakin emails that were in a batch Kane’s office turned over last month, the high court said.

A number of the emails “were not made available” by Kane’s office last year, the court said, even though it said the Judicial Conduct Board used its subpoena power to access emails from the attorney general’s office. The board has not said whether it also asked Eakin to produce emails from his account.

In last year’s review, the court-appointed lawyer, Robert L. Byer, reported seeing nothing inappropriate and the conduct board dropped its complaint against Eakin.

Now, the board has said it is investigating Eakin’s emails again, while the courts have hired the Pittsburgh-based law firm Del Sole Cavanaugh Stroyd for a second review.

Duquesne University law professor Bruce Ledewitz said the court’s appointment of a lawyer defies a 1993 amendment to the state constitution. The amendment, adopted in the wake of another scandal involving a justice, was meant to take disciplinary authority away from the Supreme Court and place it with independent panels to act as investigators, prosecutors and judges, Ledewitz said.

“How can we have any confidence at this point in anything they do?” Ledewitz questioned. “They’re not independent in this. They’re judging themselves.”

Ledewitz also questioned why Eakin did not speak up if he knew that the batch of emails reviewed last year was incomplete.

Eakin, 66, a Republican and a former Cumberland County prosecutor, has said he would cooperate with the board’s investigation. He did not respond to a request for comment Monday.

In recent days, the Philadelphia Daily News has reported that it obtained copies of what appeared to be some of Eakin’s emails. It 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 and neither Eakin nor the attorney general’s office has confirmed their legitimacy.

On Monday, a Kane spokesman said the Judicial Conduct Board might not have seen every email exchange in last year’s review because the attorney general’s office had not transferred all of Eakin’s emails from its servers into an “electronic vault” before board investigators ended their review. However, the attorney general’s office believes Byer did see all the emails, spokesman Chuck Ardo said.

Kane’s office has said her office submitted Eakin’s emails to the courts and the Judicial Conduct Board late last month, suggesting that the emails raised questions about Eakin’s fitness for office.

It said it did so after reviewing the emails in response to a Sept. 11 request from the Philadelphia Daily News for emails from Eakin’s Yahoo account.

The board’s 2014 investigation of Eakin began after the Daily News reported last October that he had received two pornographic emails and one racially offensive email at his Yahoo email address in 2010.

One of Eakin’s colleagues, Justice Seamus McCaffery, retired shortly after that, after The Morning Call of Allentown revealed his role in the email exchanges with state prosecutors and agents.

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