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In reversal, Kane says porn emails were not newly discovered

In threatening to name more names in the ongoing porn scandal, Attorney General Kathleen G. Kane declared last month that she had obtained new X-rated emails "heretofore unknown to us."

In threatening to name more names in the ongoing porn scandal, Attorney General Kathleen G. Kane declared last month that she had obtained new X-rated emails "heretofore unknown to us."

Her office named a new name Thursday - declaring that Supreme Court Justice J. Michael Eakin had sent and received "racial, misogynistic pornography."

But Kane's spokesman, Chuck Ardo, issued a key clarification Friday.

Ardo said the troubling Eakin emails had actually been discovered a year ago. In fact, he said, they had been turned over as part of a batch of 1,500 emails shared with the Supreme Court last fall so it could review its justices' possible involvement with pornographic messages sent on state computer servers.

The result of that review was a report in December that said Justice Seamus P. McCaffery had sent or received scores of pornographic emails containing about 750 X-rated photos and videos. McCaffery, a Democrat, was suspended by his colleagues, and ended up swiftly retiring from the court.

But the same report said that Eakin, a Republican, had received only one email with "offensive sexual content" and sent none. The court took no action against him.

Former state Supreme Court Chief Justice Ronald D. Castille, on Friday ripped into Kane's changing accounts.

Castille, who led the porn inquiry last year, said he rejected the idea that the court's review - carried out by Pittsburgh lawyer Robert L. Byer, a former state appeals court judge - had somehow missed offensive emails from Eakin.

He said he wondered whether the questionable Eakin emails were even included in the material provided to Byer for his review as special counsel.

"They are lying. She is already charged with perjury - two counts of it," Castille said, referring to a pending criminal case against Kane. "Now, they've got her smearing Eakin's reputation. It's beyond reprehensible."

Castille said Byer had been instructed to examine emails for any offensive content, not just porn. Byer, who is recovering from surgery, declined through a spokeswoman to answer questions Friday.

On Monday, Kane sent the Supreme Court 1,500 Eakin emails for its review. She also gave sets to the Judicial Conduct Board and the state Ethics Commission. Ardo has said some included pornographic images, but that he did not know the number and could not find it out.

Eakin, a former Cumberland County district attorney who has served on the high court for nearly 15 years, issued a brief statement Friday promising to cooperate with reviews. He said he would not comment further.

Kane, the first woman and Democrat elected attorney general, has said she wants to make public the names of all of those found to have exchanged pornography on state computers. At the same time, she has fought in court to have the messages deemed private.

On Friday, Kane's office refused to make public the Eakin emails. They were among extensive electronic communications reviewed by the Attorney General's Office in an unrelated investigation last year.

A spokesman for the high court said it had hired a Pittsburgh law firm to serve as special counsel to investigate. It chose the firm of Joseph A. Del Sole, a former Superior Court president judge, who is to be paid $500 hourly.

In an interview Friday, Del Sole said his review would sort the matter out.

"We're going to review the information that the court received [last week] and see if it is identical or more extensive than what was provided before," he said.

The court was apparently unfazed that Del Sole, a Democrat, was Kane's personal lawyer earlier this year in an unsuccessful bid to quash the criminal investigation of her.

Del Sole said Friday that Kane was no longer a client and he saw no chance he would be put in an "adversarial" position with her.

In a public report on the earlier email review, dated Dec. 19, 2014, Byer said he had looked at 1,500 emails that Eakin sent or received using a private email account. Eakin used the name John Smith in the emails, which Kane was able to obtain because they had passed through email servers at the Attorney General's Office.

Of that group, he said he found just one with "offensive sexual content."

Byer noted that Eakin had not sent the message, but rather received it and he said, "No person has control of what others send to his or her email account."

He said Eakin did not reply to the message or forward it.

In contrast, the review found that McCaffery had sent or received more than 230 pornographic messages between 2008 and 2012, containing hundreds of pictures and movies.

McCaffery did not return a telephone call seeking comment Friday.

Kane leveled her accusation against Eakin on Thursday, moments after she was arraigned on a new perjury charge in the criminal case against her. She is charged with lying to a grand jury about a scheme to leak confidential investigative information in a bid to embarrass a critic.

On Thursday, she denied breaking the law and again linked her prosecution to her campaign against the pornographic exchanges. She has said the criminal case against her grew out of a plot by former state prosecutors and others afraid of being exposed as participants in porn exchanges.

Kane provided little detail in her remarks about Eakin. As examples of offensive emails, she cited two messages, neither of which involved X-rated images. Rather, the messages contained "jokes" in which the punch line was that a victim of domestic abuse needed to shut up.

The Philadelphia Daily News reported Friday that it had obtained some of the emails and also learned about them from "a source close to Kane's legal team."

"Some are pornographic," the paper said.

It said others mocked gays, African Americans, Mexicans, and women. Eakin received one, the paper said, with a video portraying black people as welfare recipients who wanted to avoid working.

Ardo, the Kane spokesman, said that while the Eakin emails were shared with the Supreme Court last year, Kane only recently focused on their content.

He said she did so after the Daily News filed an official request for Eakin emails under the state right-to-know law on Sept. 11.

Castille said he found it unlikely that Kane had waited for months to review the contents of the emails.

He called Ardo's statement "ludicrous," and noted that Kane had written him last year to say she understood that the court considered the issue of the emails to be "of the utmost importance."