HARRISBURG - Pennsylvania's Judicial Conduct Board will investigate a complaint that Supreme Court Justice Seamus McCaffery may have violated ethics rules if he sent sexually explicit e-mails from his personal account to a state employee, according to a letter from the board.

In the Tuesday letter, the board agreed to "conduct an inquiry into the matters" raised in a complaint filed last week by Harrisburg activist Gene Stilp.

In his Oct. 2 complaint, Stilp cited news accounts that McCaffery in 2008 and 2009 sent e-mails containing pornographic content to an agent in the state Attorney General's Office.

McCaffery has declined to discuss the claims.

Stilp asked the board to investigate whether sending such e-mails violated judicial ethics rules "related to behavior that reflects poorly on the integrity of the Supreme Court," according to a copy of his complaint. Stilp also noted that the Attorney General's Office has cases that land before the high court, and that private communications between the prosecutor's office and justices may compromise cases.

"When you are a Supreme Court justice, you have a higher duty," Stilp said Thursday. "Anything that reflects negatively on you as a person reflects on the court in a negative way - and that undermines people's confidence in the court.

"Without confidence in the court," Stilp added, "we don't have a stable judiciary."

Dion Rassias, McCaffery's attorney, would not say Thursday whether the justice had been notified of the inquiry.

"We all know that anything involving the Judicial Conduct Board is confidential," he said. "I can only assume it's from one of the serial complaint filers."

The Judicial Conduct Board investigates allegations of ethical misconduct against judges. Its proceedings are confidential, and none of the materials it generates during the course of an investigation is made public, said Robert A. Graci, the board's chief counsel.

Graci said the board did not comment on any inquiry it was conducting.

Speaking generally, he said, the board investigates complaints about judges and might refer them to the Court of Judicial Discipline for proceedings and actions that may be public. "That is the body that determines what the discipline is," Graci said, "and can choose from a panoply of options."

This year, the board has received about 620 requests for an investigation into a judge's conduct, but only a handful have made it to the Court of Judicial Discipline, Graci said.

The Inquirer has reported that McCaffery, using a private e-mail account, sent at least 10 messages containing sexually explicit content in 2008 and 2009 to an agent in the Attorney General's Office. The agent then forwarded the material to dozens of others in the Attorney General's Office, according to copies of the e-mails.

Supreme Court Chief Justice Ronald D. Castille has asked Attorney General Kathleen G. Kane to turn over any e-mails containing pornographic content that were sent by or to judges or judicial employees.

Castille has said that any judge who exchanged grossly pornographic material using court equipment might have violated the state's code of judicial ethics.

Kane has named eight men, all former top attorneys and investigators in the Attorney General's Office, as having sent or received hundreds of sexually explicit e-mails between 2008 and 2012.

Kane, a Democrat, found the e-mails when her office conducted a review of how her Republican predecessors, including Gov. Corbett, handled the investigation into serial child sex abuser Jerry Sandusky. She has said she decided it was in the public's best interest to make their content known.

A technician from her office is scheduled to meet Friday afternoon with Castille to show him any e-mails her office found that were sent by judges or judicial employees.

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