‘Porngate’ report released; judges among “high-volume” offenders

HARRISBURG, Pa. -- The investigation into pornographic, offensive, and inflammatory emails on state government servers, more commonly know as the "Porngate" scandal, found no new evidence to suggest a conspiracy between judges, prosecutors, and lawyers, Pennsylvania Attorney General Bruce Beemer said Tuesday.

Beemer added, however, the investigation, which looked at 6.5 million documents, had a flawed methodology which flagged thousands of emails which would not typically be considered offensive.

The report was commissioned by former attorney general Kathleen Kane in 2015, after she claimed an "old boys network" of high-ranking state officials were conspiring together through the use of inappropriate emails.  She hired the law firm of Buckley Sandler to investigate. Kane has since been convicted of numerous crimes, including perjury and conspiracy, and was sentenced to 10 to 23 months in prison.

On Tuesday, Beemer said the firm has been paid $385,000; a "poor use" of taxpayer money, he said, in criticizing Kane's decision to launch the investigation.

Of the 6.5 million emails investigated on government servers, 11,900 were flagged for offensive material. However, according to Beemer, while hundreds of those emails were clearly inappropriate, nearly 75 percent were emails taken out of context, and "not inappropriate at all."

Among those emails include:

  • Women diagnosed with breast cancer sharing emails using a phrase to encourage detection.
  • A Jewish employee talking about a bar mitzvah.
  • A Catholic employee admitting he ate a hot dog on lent.
  • Any email which mentioned Muslims, the Irisih, Italians, Polish or African Americans.
  • Any email which used the word "gay."

"There was no attempt made to determine the context of the emails," Beemer said at his press conference Tuesday. "Words used in every day conversation. Rightly or wrongly. Those were flagged, regardless of the content or how the email was utilized."

All names listed in the report were redacted, including 38 people deemed to be "high-volume senders." Of the 38, Beemer said 13 were judges or senior government officials. The list includes police chiefs and a member of the state legislature. Between them, they sent hundreds of explicit, pornographic, or inappropriate materials from 2008 to 2015. The other offenders were low-level state workers.

Beemer says the decision to keep the names redacted was a difficult one, but done to protect the names of the people who were flagged for writing non-offensive emails.

"It flies in the face of fairness and justice for everybody," Beemer said. "Everybody wants the names because they feel that will give them certain answers but no one wants to deal with the consequence of how a report like this can unfairly tarnish a group of people."

Beemer plans on forwarding any emails -- and the offenders -- to their respective state agencies for potential punishment. The state's judicial conduct board released a statement Tuesday saying it plans to conduct an independent investigation into the three judges listed in the report.

Two judges,  ex-Supreme Court justice Michael Eakin and former justice Seamus McCaffrey, already resigned after their names were outed by former attorney general Kane.

Kane also disciplined 60 people in the attorney general's office due to offensive emails.