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More calls for Justice Eakin to resign

Gov. Wolf on Sunday renewed his call for Pennsylvania Supreme Court Justice J. Michael Eakin to resign, but the justice's lawyer said Eakin has no intention of stepping down.

Gov. Wolf on Sunday renewed his call for Pennsylvania Supreme Court Justice J. Michael Eakin to resign, but the justice's lawyer said Eakin has no intention of stepping down.

Wolf said Sunday that Eakin showed "a remarkable lack of judgment" by voting to fill a vacancy on the judicial disciplinary tribunal that is to weigh misconduct allegations against him in the pornographic email scandal.

Elaborating on his criticism of Eakin's conduct, the governor issued a statement Sunday that reiterated his call for the justice to resign.

"Justice Eakin is complicit in sharing emails that contain racist, sexist, and other derogatory materials, and his actions deserve the utmost scrutiny," Wolf said. "Justice Eakin was also involved in attempting to appoint an individual to the Pennsylvania Court of Judicial Discipline, the very court charged with providing that scrutiny."

"That Justice Eakin saw fit to participate in appointing someone he knew could soon be involved in reviewing his own behavior demonstrates a remarkable lack of judgment," Wolf said. "Given the nature of Justice Eakin's conduct, and the real concern that he could not be impartial in presiding over cases involving the groups of people disparaged in his emails, he should resign."

The governor's remarks amplified an earlier statement he made to The Inquirer on Saturday night.

As The Inquirer reported Saturday, Eakin swapped a series of emails with a friend in which the two talked about a forthcoming out-of-town golf outing in Myrtle Beach, S.C., that was to include visits to strip clubs.

Eakin wrote of his eagerness to slip dollar bills to strippers and of his desire to see women's breasts. He and his friend, a prosecutor with the Attorney General's Office, also mused about inviting two of Eakin's judicial aides to join them on the trip and joked about sleeping arrangements.

Eakin's attorney, William Costopoulos, said in an interview Sunday night that "Justice Eakin is not going to resign. That is not in our package."

Costopoulos said he was disappointed the governor had taken a position before Eakin has had the opportunity to publicly address the allegations against him. Costopoulos said he expects the matter will land before the Court of Judicial Discipline, and soon. The tribunal's proceedings are public.

"I believe the governor's call for Justice Eakin to resign was unfair," Costopoulos said. "Whether those emails violate [judicial] canons is for the Court of Judicial Discipline to decide and no one else. We are not going to respond to press conferences, or to calls for resignation - even from the governor himself."

Asked why Eakin had cast a vote for a new member of the judicial court, Costopoulos said: "Knowing Justice Michael Eakin, there was never, ever an intent on his part to do anything improper."

Eakin, 66, a Republican who has served on the high court since 2002, has apologized and said the emails do not reflect his true character.

Wolf, a Democrat, called for Eakin to step down after Chief Justice Thomas Saylor on Saturday abruptly withdrew the nomination of Karen Snider, a former secretary of the state Department of Public Welfare, to the state Court of Judicial Discipline. Sources said her appointment was made so she could support Eakin in the disciplinary process.

Saylor withdrew the nomination hours after The Inquirer reported that Saylor and Eakin were backing a plan to install a new member to the disciplinary tribunal, before which Eakin may face a hearing on whether he violated judicial rules by sending or receiving several dozen emails that contained offensive content.

There are two vacancies on the eight-member judicial discipline panel. The Supreme Court has the authority to fill one; Wolf has the power to appoint the other.

Wolf spokesman Jeffrey Sheridan said Sunday that the governor has not decided whether to nominate anyone. "We have that appointment, but no decisions have been made," Sheridan said.

Supporting the call for Eakin to resign is the reform-oriented Pennsylvanians for Modern Courts.

"With more and more stories of his lack of judgment, it is harder for Pennsylvanians to have confidence in his ability to be a fair, respectable justice, let alone one who is supposed to become the chief justice after Chief Justice Saylor," executive director Lynn A. Marks said. "The problems are not just the offensive emails, but the chumminess with lawyers to whom the emails were sent, and recent reports of his voting for a new member of the Court of Judicial Discipline who could very well rule on his case," Marks said.

"The bottom line is: Nothing is more important in a judge than good judgment, and that's because they sit in judgment of others," she said. "That's why judges are held to a high standard. And there's no doubt that Justice Eakin has shown not only poor judgment, but also total lack of judgment."

Former Chief Justice Ronald D. Castille, Saylor's predecessor, faulted Saylor for allowing Eakin to vote on Snider's nomination.

"How can the court allow Eakin to participate in picking this person for the [judicial] court when he is about to be the focus of its investigation?" asked Castille, a Republican like Saylor.

Added Castille of Saylor: "I think he owes the public an explanation."

As for Eakin, Castille said he would like to know more about the justice's involvement with the emails. But the ones made public so far are "pretty shocking."

James Koval, spokesman for the Pennsylvania Supreme Court, said he would forward the governor's new statement to Eakin and Saylor. "I've emailed the justices with your request for interviews," Koval said in an email.

Eakin's predicament has grown steadily worse since Attorney General Kathleen Kane revealed this fall that she had a cache of the justice's emails that contained what she described as "racist, misogynistic pornography."

In doing so, Kane called into question previous reviews of Eakin's emails by the Judicial Conduct Board and the high court itself that had cleared the justice.

Last month, the Philadelphia Daily News reported that the counsel to the Judicial Conduct Board, who wrote the letter clearing Eakin, was a friend of the justice's and had worked on his judicial campaign.

The Inquirer later reported that a member of the Judicial Conduct Board had himself been the recipient of pornographic messages from another Supreme Court justice, Seamus McCaffery, who retired from the court last year amid the email scandal.

State Sen. Anthony Williams (D., Philadelphia), who has been a staunch critic of Eakin and the email scandal, on Sunday praised Wolf for joining a bipartisan coalition that includes members of the Pennsylvania Bar, the state legislature, women's-rights movement, and LGBT community "who have long awaited Justice Eakin removing himself voluntarily from the bench."

"We are heartened that the governor has joined our continued efforts to reform the judicial system in Pennsylvania radically, starting with the immediate removal of Justice Eakin," Williams said.


Inquirer staff writer Mark Fazlollah contributed to this article.