AS COMPLAINTS grow about her sister's emails, Attorney General Kathleen Kane yesterday back-pedaled in her defense of the messages.
In her second statement in three days, Kane said she had never made a judgment, good or bad, about the emails of her twin, Ellen Granahan, a top prosecutor in her office.
Kane said others on her staff evaluated her sister's messages because state ethics laws barred her from making disciplinary decisions about a relative.
She disavowed comments Thursday by her spokesman, Chuck Ardo, who said Kane considered Granahan's emails less offensive than others made public in the Porngate scandal.
Unlike more than 60 other staffers in the Attorney General's Office, Granahan was not disciplined in connection with the emails.
"Contrary to the impression created yesterday, I have never characterized or judged the content of my sister's emails," Kane said yesterday.
Her tone was sharply different from that of her first statement, issued Wednesday night as the office released 57 emails sent or received by Granahan on state computers.
In that initial statement, Kane made no mention of walling herself off from a review of the emails. Instead, she said the office had twice reviewed the messages and found nothing pornographic or otherwise offensive.
Kane made her sister's messages public Wednesday night after she was challenged to do so by Mark Gilson, a prosecutor in the Philadelphia District Attorney's Office. She complained that Gilson was spreading "shameless falsehoods" about the messages.
Ardo said Kane issued her new statement yesterday "to clarify that she had not seen the Granahan emails prior to their being made public." He said he was unaware until then that Kane had not played a role in the earlier review.
While Granahan's emails contained no pornography, they included suggestive photographs of men and women and jokes that mocked minorities, immigrants, obese people, anorexics, and domestic-violence victims.
After the messages were released, the chancellor of the Philadelphia Bar Association, Albert S. Dandridge III, quickly condemned them. He called them "disgusting and degrading" and faulted Kane for failing to release all emails found on her office's computer servers.
"The people of Pennsylvania need to know what the whole story is, rather than getting dribs and drabs on a daily basis," Dandridge said. "And these dribs and drabs look worse every day."
Kane, who faces perjury conspiracy and other charges and has had her law license suspended, has blamed her legal woes on Harrisburg's male-dominated political establishment. She said her enemies had "manufactured" the criminal case to punish her for her campaign against pornographic emails.
In an interview yesterday, Ronald Castille, the former chief justice of the state Supreme Court, said the Granahan emails undermined Kane's "mantra about 'the good old boys' network' out to get her."
Said Castille: "Looks like her sister is part of the network," he said.
Last year, Castille, a Republican, unsuccessfully pushed Kane, a Democrat, to release all emails involving the judiciary.
Kane did release the emails of one justice, Seamus P. McCaffery, who retired from the court last year after the disclosure that he had traded hundreds of pornographic images.
This fall, Kane made public scores of emails sent or received by another justice, J. Michael Eakin. He is facing misconduct charges for sending messages that included pictures of naked women and offensive jokes that mocked minorities and abused women, among others.
Kane's initial email disclosures last year embarrassed several top officials in the administration of Gov. Tom Corbett and cost five men their jobs.
Caryn Hunt, president of the state chapter of the National Organization of Women, has condemned the conduct of the men who exchanged offensive emails. Yesterday, she criticized Granahan's emails.
She called one message - a photograph of an African-American toddler bedecked in gold jewelry and clutching a stack of money - "disgusting . . . obviously racist."
Kane, in her statement yesterday, said special prosecutor Douglas F. Gansler, whom she recently appointed to examine emails found on her computer servers, would examine her sister's messages, along with all others.
Hunt said that made sense. She said Granahan "is going to have to accept responsibility, just like everyone else."
On Wednesday, Kane said staffers in her office examined her twin's emails last year after getting a request for information about them under the state's right-to-know law. The review found nothing offensive, she said.
However, other people familiar with the office's handling of the email controversy said Granahan's emails had not been submitted for review last year when the Human Resources unit was assigned to examine staff emails. The unit recommended discipline against dozens of staffers, ranging from reprimands to suspensions to firings.
Ardo said yesterday that he did not have details on last year's review process.
Granahan, 49, became a state prosecutor in 2008, four years before Kane was elected.
Four months after Kane took office, Granahan was promoted to head the office's child-protection unit and given a 20 percent raise. She is now paid $88,509. At the time of her promotion, an office spokesman said Kane's chief of staff - not Kane - had made the decision to move her into the new role.
Robert P. Caruso, executive director of the State Ethics Commission, said the agency generally advises officials to avoid making personnel decisions involving relatives. Ethics rules clearly state that public officials may not use their public positions to enrich themselves or family members, he said.
However, Caruso said the rules would not bar an official from disciplining a relative.
"I don't know where the ethics violation would be if a public official were to reprimand or suspend a relative," he said, "because there is no use of office there for private gain, at least not on its face."
On Twitter: @CraigRMcCoy