Skip to content
Link copied to clipboard

AG assails probe into state employees who shared porn

HARRISBURG - Attorney General Bruce Beemer on Tuesday released a long-awaited special report on pornographic emails sent on state computers, but only after stripping it of senders' names and dismissing it as ineptly researched, a "poor use" of public funds and a document that risked unfairly maligning hundreds of people.


Attorney General Bruce Beemer on Tuesday released a long-awaited special report on pornographic emails sent on state computers, but only after stripping it of senders' names and dismissing it as ineptly researched, a "poor use" of public funds and a document that risked unfairly maligning hundreds of people.

Beemer castigated the 50-page report by Douglas Gansler, a former Maryland attorney general, saying his careless use of a computer methodology to flag troubling emails led him to mislabel discussions of breast cancer as pornography and to deem offensive a Budweiser commercial that had aired during a Super Bowl.

"There was no attempt made to determine the context of the emails, the content and the relationship between the people sending the emails, and that created a real problem," Beemer said.

The report was poised to be the final chapter in a scandal that has lingered for two years, one that cost two Supreme Court justices and several state officials their jobs, fueled unproven allegations and sowed suspicion across state offices.

While acknowledging the report had turned up hundreds of "clearly offensive" emails, Beemer said Gansler had found no evidence that specific court cases had been improperly discussed in email exchanges involving judges or prosecutors.

Nor, Beemer said, did Gansler's digging, for which he has been paid $385,000 on a bill that could hit $2 million, support former Attorney General Kathleen G. Kane's cry that an "old boys' network" dominated Pennsylvania's justice system.

Along with the report's research failings, Beemer cited union contracts that bar employees from embarrassment and the prospect of a wave of expensive lawsuits as reasons for blacking out names.

"All you do not have is the names," he told reporters at a Capitol news conference, "because to do so under the circumstances in which I found the report I felt would be imprudent."

Kane, who has been convicted and sentenced to jail for perjury and other charges, discovered the emails during an unrelated inquiry. She claimed the discovery illustrated the broad reach of a sinister misogynistic power structure in the state and hired Gansler, of the BuckleySandler firm in Washington, to do an exhaustive review. Though it provided some new insights, the report he produced also laid bare a divide between Gansler's findings and Beemer's review of them.

Gansler's report said his investigation revealed a failure by all three branches of government to "understand that the reality and perception of a fair and unbiased government and legal system is dangerously compromised by the seemingly routine" exchange of pornography and racist, misogynistic and other offensive comment.

Beemer said the review found no evidence of inappropriate communications that could have affected the administration of justice or the outcomes of cases. He also acknowledged for the first time that Gansler's review only looked at email that Office of Attorney General employees sent to people outside the agency and did not look at interoffice messages.

That, he said, was because Gansler was focused on contact that staffers had with officials outside the agency.

While not making names public, Beemer pledged his office would forward the identities of lawyers and judges whose messages were flagged by the report to state disciplinary boards. Similarly, he said, other state agencies will be notified if any of its employees' emails were captured in Gansler's review.

Reached for comment Tuesday, Gansler said, "We have been instructed by the Office of Attorney General not to comment." Kane also declined to comment.

In all, Gansler's firm reviewed more than 6.4 million documents. Of those, his report identified 11,930 inappropriate emails sent by more than 370 employees of the Attorney General's Office, including prosecutors, and more than 25 employees of the judiciary, including judges.

Gansler found that five Pennsylvania judges - including former Justices Seamus McCaffery and J. Michael Eakin - and eight other senior state government officials, including two police chiefs and a member of the legislature, were among those who shared pornographic or inappropriate material. McCaffery and Eakin quit the court after being publicly tainted in the scandal.

Gansler categorized an additional 48 employees as "high-volume" senders, meaning they sent more than 50 such emails between 2008 and 2015. They include current and retired agents from the Attorney General's Office, a county detective, several clerk-typists and a PennDot equipment manager.

Among the content reviewed by Gansler were messages with images of naked women and purported jokes playing on stereotypes demeaning to women, gays and ethnic minorities.

One was an email with the subject line "The forehead dot" making fun of Hindu women and their husbands. Another, with the subject line "How Obama Plans to Catch Illegal Mexicans," depicted a bottle of Corona beer under a cardboard-box trap. A third showed a woman performing sexual acts with male genitalia that appeared through holes in a Whac-A-Mole-style game board.

Beemer took issue with some of the report's conclusions and messages it deemed offensive. He said he had five senior lawyers in his office, including three women, review Gansler's work, and the team often found messages that had been wrongly flagged as pornographic or inappropriate.

For instance, he said, three judges singled out in Gansler's report, excluding the two justices, had sent most of the messages to their spouses, who worked in the Attorney General's Office.

Also in Gansler's report: emails between a network of women discussing breast cancer and using a common slogan urging women to perform self-breast exams; a message by a Catholic employee joking that he ate a hot dog during Lent; a Jewish employee talking about a bar mitzvah and videos of the Budweiser commercial.

"In many instances, they are conversations that people are having with other people where they are using words that are deemed to be offensive," Beemer said. "They are words that are used in everyday conversations, rightly or wrongly. Those were flagged as being inappropriate and subject to disclosure, regardless of the content."

Though Beemer said the public deserved to see the report, he defended his decision to redact the names in it. He also noted that more than 60 of his office's employees were disciplined two years ago, when the porn scandal first became public.

Although Kane, a Democrat elected in 2012, repeatedly promised to publicly release all of the emails, she never did. Instead, in the fall of 2014, she identified just eight people who exchanged pornographic or otherwise offensive messages. All eight had ties to a former state prosecutor, Frank Fina, with whom Kane was feuding, leading to criticism that she was using the messages as a weapon to exact revenge on perceived enemies.