Another email scandal for the Pa Supreme Court, and more bickering with the Attorney General

This is an archived article and the information in the article may be outdated. Please look at the time stamp on the story to see when it was last updated.

HARRISBURG, Pa — A Pennsylvania Supreme Court Justice who had previously been cleared by a Judicial Conduct Board, is now accused of using a private account to send and receive more emails than were previously known. In 2014, Justice J. Michael Eakin email was investigated by a Judicial Conduct Board. They found no evidence of judicial violations. The Philadelphia Daily News reported Eakin allegedly sent and received hundreds of inappropriate emails, containing sexually explicit material as well as racially offensive images on a Yahoo account he operated under the name “John Smith.” Reports indicated that these emails were withheld from the Judicial Control Board conducting their investigation by the Office of the Attorney General. Embattled Attorney General Kathleen Kane fired back, saying no one in the attorney general’s office withheld records from the Supreme Court or the conduct board and that the court had access to the emails in question all along. Her spokesperson, Chuck Ardo, says the office didn’t provide the emails to the Philadelphia Daily News.

“It is disconcerting and embarrassing to find others searching years of private personal emails looking for and publicizing any insensitive content.  I sincerely apologize for such content.  Those who know me understand the items chosen for release do not reflect my character or beliefs, nor have they ever been part of my consideration of any case or business of the Court.  I do not offer this as an excuse, and will continue to cooperate fully with the independent review by the Court and by the Conduct Board,” said Justice J. Michael Eakin in a statement.

Attorney General Kathleen G. Kane today issued the following statement:

Last Friday evening, the Pennsylvania Judicial Conduct Board by its chief counsel, Robert A. Graci, made public allegations that the OAG did not previously provide the JCB with the Eakin emails that were sent to the JCB three weeks ago and which, subsequently, became the subject of a Philadelphia Daily News story. The JCB said, “The board believed that it had been provided with all such information when it concluded its prior investigation. However, recent revelations, including news accounts of emails sent to or from Justice Eakin’s personal email account, demonstrate that the board was not provided with all of the information on the Attorney General’s servers relating to that account.”

Former Chief Justice Castille called this “outrageous”… constitute[ing] a violation of the Rules of Professional Conduct.”

The Pennsylvania Supreme Court subsequently issued a press release claiming that a number of the emails “were not made available” by my office last year.

After a thorough review of the facts regarding Supreme Court Justice Eakin’s private email account, with both verification by two deputy attorneys general and a senior supervisory special agent, as well as documentary evidence there is one clear and unequivocal conclusion: The JCB, Supreme Court Special Counsel Robert L. Byer, and the Supreme Court itself had access in 2014 to the emails reported by the Philadelphia Daily News and now in possession of Joseph Del Sole for review.

The facts are as follows:

  1. On November 5, 2014, Robert Graci, Chief Counsel of the JCB, and investigators of the JCB viewed a disc containing the personal emails of Justice Eakins that contained numerous photos and videos that contain nudity. These emails were part of the complete set of emails my office sent to the JCB last month that ultimately were made public by the Philadelphia Daily News. They are as The Daily News has described them: “raunchy, sexist, [and] racist” and circulated among a “district attorney…first assistant district attorney, a county judge, a senior deputy attorney general, an assistant U.S. attorney and a U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service employee…a deputy clerk for a federal judge, a lawyer with the Pennsylvania Gaming Control Board and a second Common Pleas judge in Dauphin County.”
  2. Mr.Graci, Beemer, and JCB investigators viewed these emails in the OAG office of Bruce Beemer, First Deputy Attorney General. The viewing was conducted and witnessed by a Senior Supervisory Special Agent.
  3. Mr. Graci and JCB investigators were provided these email files on disc and left the OAG with them in hand on Nov.5, 2014. OAG retained a copy of the emails with attachments that were contained on this disc.
  4. On December 8, 2014, Mr. Graci concluded his investigation of Justice Eakin and made a recommendation to the JCB.
  5. On December 19, 2014, OAG received notification that Byer had suddenly concluded his investigation of Eakin emails and his report would be released publically within 30 minutes. OAG informed Mr. Byer that the investigation was not complete as of yet.
  6. On December 19, 2014, the “Report of the Special Counsel Concerning Review of Email Messages Involving Supreme Court Justices and Office of Attorney general from 2008-2012”, commonly referred to as the Byer Report for its author, Robert L. Byer was made public. The Byer Report makes clear that it covered “[t]he additional 1,038 email messages that were sent to or from Justice Eakin’s personal account.” The internal report and subsequent review by OAG confirms this. Mr. Byer was given complete access to all of the Eakin private emails requested by Chief Justice Castille via an electronic vault set up by the OAG in November of 2014, records of Byer’s access into the vault confirm the same.
  7. Folders were created by OAG in this vault for Byer with the categories, amongst others, “sexual forwards” and “non sexual forwards” for efficiency and ease of access. Records confirm this fact.

To conclude, Mr. Byer who was commissioned by then Chief Justice Castille had access to 1038 personal emails of Justice Eakin, which contained videos and photos described in news articles. Mr. Byer’s report fails to mention any questionable emails in his report. OAG vault records confirm Byer’s access and the exact emails. The JCB had in its possession and viewed a disc on Nov.5, 2014 containing numerous videos and photos containing nude women. Any allegation or statement that these two entities did not have the information because of any action of OAG is factually incorrect.