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Pa. prosecutors balk at $2 million bill from Porngate investigator

HARRISBURG - Convicted former Pennsylvania Attorney General Kathleen Kane may be out of office, but a legal fight over her signature quest to investigate pornography shared over state computers is just beginning.

HARRISBURG - Convicted former Pennsylvania Attorney General Kathleen Kane may be out of office, but a legal fight over her signature quest to investigate pornography shared over state computers is just beginning.

Top lawyers with the Attorney General's office are now balking at paying the full $2 million billed by the special prosecutor Kane hired last year to investigate the scandal.

Washington D.C. lawyer Douglas Gansler has already been paid $385,000 for his work. But in a meeting last week, Gansler was told the office was only willing to pay him and his firm, BuckleySandler, less than half of the approximately $1.5 million more it is seeking, according to two sources familiar with the discussions.

The sources said the agency's highest-ranking officials, including Attorney General Bruce Beemer, are unhappy with Gansler's review and subsequent report on the emails, believing it to be ineptly researched, and unfairly careless about its impact on people's reputations. The sources spoke on condition of anonymity because they were not authorized to publicly discuss the negotiations.

The Attorney General Office's refusal to pay Gansler's bill could set the stage for a nasty court fight. The sources said Gansler made it clear at the meeting last week he would sue if the bill was not paid in full.

Asked about it this week, Gansler, a former Maryland Attorney General, declined comment, saying his firm has been instructed by the Pennsylvania prosecutors office not to discuss its work.

Chuck Ardo, Beemer's spokesman, also said he would not discuss the negotiations with the special investigator.

But he acknowledged Gansler and the current leaders in the Attorney General's Office "do not see eye-to-eye on what was being validly billed."

"It's clear that the sides have different perspectives on much of the remaining debt that is due," Ardo said. "Our hope would be that a reasonable settlement can be reached and that this entire episode can be put behind us as quickly as possible."

Short of a lawsuit, Gansler could press his case for full payment with Attorney General-elect Josh Shapiro, a Democrat who will take office late next month.

But Ardo said Beemer, also a Democrat, is determined to resolve "all aspects of the Porngate fiasco" before leaving office.

The stalemate represents the latest fallout from a scandal that has divided the state prosecutor's office and rippled to scores of other government agencies and offices.

Kane, a Democrat, discovered the emails in 2014 while reviewing how her Republican predecessors handled the high-profile investigation into child molester Jerry Sandusky.

The emails, which included pornographic images and videos as well as jokes demeaning to women, minorities, and gays and lesbians, had been swapped among prosecutors, agents, judges and defense lawyers.

But the scandal unfolded in fits and starts over two years, in part because Kane was inconsistent and indecisive in dealing with it. She was frequently criticized for using the emails as a weapon against people she perceived as enemies, exposing the names of those she disliked while protecting her allies.

Time would show that hundreds of people participated in the exchanges, but Kane named only eight people who either sent or received the messages. All were tied to a former state prosecutor, Frank Fina, with whom she was feuding.

Though she often vowed to make all the emails public - saying they exposed a culture of misogyny and racism in the state's criminal justice system - she never did.

She later attempted, albeit unsuccessfully, to use the scandal while defending herself against the perjury, conspiracy and other criminal charges on which she was convicted this past August.

In late 2015, Kane hired Gansler and his firm to conduct what she called a thorough investigation into the matter. Gansler's firm ultimately reviewed more than 6.4 million documents and completed a 50-report earlier this year.

The report identified 11,930 inappropriate emails sent by more than 370 employees of the Attorney General's Office, including prosecutors, and more than 25 employees of the judiciary, including judges. Previously, two state Supreme Court justices - Seamus McCaffery and J. Michael Eakin - resigned after being tainted in the scandal.

Gansler categorized an additional 48 employees as "high-volume" senders, meaning they sent more than 50 such emails between 2008 and 2015. They included current and retired agents from the Attorney General's Office, a county detective, several clerk-typists, and a PennDot equipment manager.

But in releasing the report last last month, Beemer stripped it of any email senders' names, citing the prospect of lawsuits and union contracts that bar employees from embarrassment.

While confirming that the report revealed hundreds of offensive emails, Beemer assailed Gansler's computer methodology for wrongly flagging messages with innocuous content - and exposing its senders to being unfairly maligned in the public eye.

Gansler's report did not uncover any evidence that court cases had been improperly discussed in email exchanges involving judges or prosecutors. Nor did it back up Kane's repeated assertions of an "old boys' network" warping justice.