Pennsylvania Supreme Court Justice Debra McCloskey Todd said Tuesday that she had urged the Judicial Conduct Board and the disciplinary board for lawyers to review the emails of every judge and lawyer involved in the Porngate scandal, which has cost two of her colleagues their seats on the high court.
Todd confirmed that she requested the reviews after a special counsel for the court reported that Justice J. Michael Eakin had exchanged "offensive, tasteless, insensitive, juvenile, and repugnant" emails, many with fellow judges and lawyers.
Eakin resigned two weeks ago, the latest casualty in an email scandal that led to the retirement of former Justice Seamus P. McCaffery in 2014 and the ouster of several top government officials.
In an interview Tuesday, Todd said the review by two state boards should involve all "offensive emails housed on the attorney general's server." She would not elaborate.
Todd, a Democrat from Butler County in Western Pennsylvania, has been on the Supreme Court since 2008. For the last 21/2 years, she was the only woman on the court, until Christine Donohue joined the court in January.
The emails came to light when state Attorney General Kathleen G. Kane learned that the computer servers in her office had been a hub for the exchange of offensive messages among prosecutors, judges, defense lawyers, and others.
On Tuesday, Kane praised Todd's call for possible sanctions.
"I applaud Justice Todd's efforts to hold the network of judges and lawyers attached to these hate-filled emails accountable, a network the special prosecutor has been working to expose," said Kane, a Democrat.
Kane was referring to Douglas Gansler, a former attorney general of Maryland whom she appointed four months ago to produce a report naming every sender and recipient of offensive emails captured on the servers. He is expected to finish his report in the next few months.
Despite his title, Gansler has said he does not expect to recommend criminal charges against anyone. But he said some of those involved in the email traffic could face ethics charges.
Todd's call for two independent reviews, he said, is "in concert with what we are doing."
The disciplinary board, an agency under the Supreme Court's jurisdiction, investigates complaints against lawyers. The judicial panel, an independent agency, does the same for judges. Lawyers face punishment ranging from admonishment to disbarment. For judges, the most severe penalty is removal from the bench.
Officials with the disciplinary panel had no comment Tuesday. Representatives of the Judicial Conduct Board could not be reached.
Carol E. Tracy, executive director of the Philadelphia-based Women's Law Project, said the email traffic at issue showed "far too much familiarity between lawyers before the court and the court."
Tracy had been scheduled to testify against Eakin at an ethics trial that was to have started this week.
But the state Court of Judicial Discipline canceled the trial and found Eakin, a Republican from Cumberland County, guilty of violating ethics rules by detracting from the dignity of his office. It fined him $50,000 but left his $153,000 annual pension untouched.
McCaffery, a Philadelphia Democrat who had exchanged more than 200 pornographic emails, left the bench under a deal in which he retired, but was allowed to keep his pension. He was not fined.
Legal experts said it was unclear what ethics rule lawyers - who, unlike judges, are not public officials - might have violated in the email exchanges.
While the full scope of the offensive messages will not be clear until Gansler completes his work, statements by Kane and the evidence made public against Eakin give some idea of their breadth.
The emails were exchanged among friends in at times overlapping social networks. As the Inquirer has previously reported, McCaffery sent problematic emails to a wide range of recipients, including Eakin and two current members of the state Supreme Court, Max Baer and Kevin Dougherty.
Through a court spokesman, Baer and Dougherty declined to comment Tuesday. Baer received 10 of the offensive postings, Dougherty three.
McCaffery also sent a few offensive emails to Correale Stevens and William H. Lamb, both former justices. In interviews, both said that they demanded that he stop, and that he did.
Other recipients have included state and federal prosecutors, Common Pleas Court judges from at least three counties, and the district attorney and chief public defender in Dauphin County.
Kane originally exposed the email traffic in 2014. She named a handful of participants in the email traffic, most with ties to then-Gov. Tom Corbett, a Republican, and disciplined about 60 members of her staff, whom she did not identify.
She reignited the scandal in 2015, after reviews by the Judicial Conduct Board and the Supreme Court cleared Eakin. She said those reviews had ignored "racial, misogynistic pornography." She made that charge the day she was arraigned on a fresh count of perjury in her pending criminal case in Montgomery County.
Kane has pleaded not guilty to perjury, conspiracy, and other crimes and blamed the charges against her on former state prosecutors who she says targeted her because she exposed their exchange of troubling emails.