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Judicial misconduct charges filed against Justice Eakin

A judicial ethics panel filed misconduct charges against Pennsylvania Supreme Court Justice J. Michael Eakin on Tuesday, saying he had "detracted from the dignity of his office" by his involvement in the Porngate scandal.

A judicial ethics panel filed misconduct charges against Pennsylvania Supreme Court Justice J. Michael Eakin on Tuesday, saying he had "detracted from the dignity of his office" by his involvement in the Porngate scandal.

The decision by the state Judicial Conduct Board all but assures that Eakin will face a public trial before the Court of Judicial Discipline. That panel will weigh the allegations against him and, if it finds him guilty, impose punishment that could range from a reprimand to removal from the bench.

The conduct board, in its 52-page complaint, said Eakin "engaged in conduct so extreme that it brought the judicial office into disrepute."

By sending emails with images of naked women and jokes that demeaned women, minorities, and religious groups, Eakin gave the appearance of impropriety and failed to recognize that his behavior outside the court might conflict with his judicial duties, the board said.

Even after the high court strengthened judicial ethics rules last year, the board said, Eakin "recklessly continued to engage in the pattern of sending and receiving emails that a person of reasonable sensitivity would find objectionable."

Eakin, 67, a Republican first elected to the bench in 2001, has apologized for the offensive emails, saying they do not reflect his character.

In a statement Tuesday, Eakin said he looked forward to making his case before the disciplinary tribunal, saying a public hearing would replace "speculation and mischaracterization" with facts.

"As such, I welcome it," he said.

The Judicial Conduct Board launched a review of Eakin's emails in October, after Attorney General Kathleen G. Kane revealed that the justice had sent and received what she called "racial, misogynistic pornography."

In doing so, Kane took aim at a previous inquiry into the justice's emails by the conduct board, as well as a separate review by the Supreme Court. She said both had wrongly given Eakin a pass.

Kane first learned of Eakin's emails last year, when she discovered that her office's computer servers had been a hub for the exchange of pornography and other troubling content among judges, defense lawyers, prosecutors, and other law enforcement officials.

She did not make Eakin's messages public at the time, as she has done with those of others, leading to criticism that she has selectively released emails as a way to punish people she dislikes or blames for her legal troubles.

Eakin sent and received the emails from a private Yahoo account, using the ID "John Smith," in exchanges circulated among a small group of friends, including a prosecutor in the Attorney General's Office, Jeffrey Baxter, and a Harrisburg defense lawyer.

Some of the messages they exchanged contained pictures and videos depicting topless women, as well as full frontal nudity. One contained a graphic depiction of a man having sex with an obese woman, set to the theme from Mission: Impossible.

Others contained supposed jokes mocking gays, lesbians, feminists, and, in one instance, nuns.

Several messages the board inspected lampooned African Americans. Among them was a supposed joke in which robots serving as golf caddies were painted black. The caption read: "Four of 'em didn't show for work, two filed for welfare, one of them robbed the pro shop, and the other thinks he's the President."

As The Inquirer reported Saturday, Eakin exchanged a series of emails with Baxter that discussed their plans to visit strip clubs during an out-of-state golf trip. Eakin also made racy comments about two of his female subordinates, joked with Baxter about inviting the women on the golf trip, and discussed sleeping arrangements.

Baxter could not be reached for comment.

The newspaper also reported that Eakin was part of a ploy to install a new appointee - a fellow Republican from Eakin's home county - to the Court of Judicial Discipline, which will decide his fate.

Eakin did not recuse himself from the vote, though the new member would have had a say over whether he should be disciplined in the email matter.

Hours after The Inquirer's report, Chief Justice Thomas Saylor withdrew the appointment and Gov. Wolf called on Eakin to resign.

Through his lawyer, Eakin said he had no intention of stepping down.

Kane decried Saylor's and Eakin's efforts to install a new member on the disciplinary tribunal, saying it betrayed "a callous willingness to rig the outcome of a case."

The furor over the emails already has cost more than a half-dozen people their jobs, including former Supreme Court Justice Seamus McCaffery. McCaffery, a Democrat and a former Philadelphia police officer, retired from the high court last fall amid the scandal.

Tuesday's action was the Judicial Conduct Board's second review of Eakin's emails.

The board conducted its first inquiry last year, concluding that his messages were only "mildly pornographic" and clearing him of any ethics violations.

The matter was considered closed until Kane resurrected it in October.

Pressured by Kane's criticism that the initial review let Eakin off too easily, the board suggested that Kane had withheld some of the justice's most offensive messages.

She denied this, saying that when her office belatedly discovered a new supply of troubling Eakin emails, the conduct board showed no interest in them.

Tuesday's report does not address Kane's denial, but says the board's latest review included messages it did not have in its first investigation.

For the board's new review, Kane provided emails containing more than 100 additional messages that she described as offensive.

The report notes without explanation that its counsel, Robert A. Graci, played no role in this year's reinvestigation of Eakin and that one of its board members, Eugene Dooley, a police chief in Chester County and a former top Philadelphia police commander, recused himself from voting.

Graci's participation had been called into question by the Philadelphia Daily News, which reported in November that Graci was a friend of Eakin's and had worked on his 2011 campaign.

The Inquirer recently reported that Dooley had received pornographic emails from McCaffery. Graci has refused to say whether Dooley was among those who voted to clear Eakin last year, and the new report is silent on that.

Kane, a Democrat, has contended that her push to expose the scandal - which she argues has revealed an entrenched and too-chummy culture in the criminal-justice system - has led to her legal troubles.

Kane, who faces perjury, conspiracy, and other criminal charges, has said the case against her was "corruptly manufactured" by angry Republican men intent on preventing her from exposing the emails.

The attorney general, whose law license was suspended after she was charged, has pleaded not guilty.