The most famous legal analysis of hard-core pornography ever formulated was U.S. Supreme Court Justice Potter Stewart's: "I know it when I see it." Inconveniently enough, when it comes to the pornographic e-mail traded by Pennsylvania officials and uncovered by Attorney General Kathleen Kane, seeing it seems to be the hard part.
Kane apparently relies on much more complex legal theories than Stewart's to decide who may see the explicit material in question. As The Inquirer reported this week, she initially demurred when the state's chief justice, Ronald D. Castille, tried to determine whether any judges had participated in Harrisburg's pornopalooza. It was a sensible inquiry given that the Allentown Morning Call had linked some of the messages to one of Castille's colleagues on the state Supreme Court, Seamus McCaffery. But Kane complained that she lacked the time and resources to comply.
After the chief justice generously described her objections as "bordering on the frivolous," the attorney general relented, saying she would attempt to cooperate. But the back-and-forth reinforced the impression that the admissions policy for this peep show has been arbitrary at best.
The Inquirer has reported that scores of officials exchanged the explicit e-mails, which surfaced during Kane's reinvestigation of the office's prosecution of Penn State predator Jerry Sandusky. And yet the Democratic attorney general has named only eight of the e-mailers - every one of whom happens to have held a prominent position in the administration of Gov. Corbett, Kane's Republican predecessor and sometime nemesis.
Moreover, Kane's office has released incomplete and unclear records even on the eight men outed. Corbett has said his review found no evidence that one of the named officials, State Police Commissioner Frank Noonan, sent, forwarded, replied to, or even opened any of the offensive e-mails. Longtime Corbett consigliere Kevin Harley, another official identified by Kane, also denied sending or opening any of the nastygrams.
That suggests that the attorney general may have publicly shamed political rivals who were guilty of nothing more than receiving junk mail - even as she refuses to identify dozens who distributed pornography using government resources.
All told, the adult correspondence released so far betrays an incredibly juvenile mind-set among too many of Pennsylvania's public servants. So it's likely no great loss that Department of Environmental Protection Secretary Christopher Abruzzo and two other government officials have resigned in the wake of the revelations. There is certainly little excuse for any official who sent or otherwise participated in the distribution of sexist or demeaning material on state time and equipment - much less any official entrusted with prosecuting or adjudicating sexual and other crimes.
On the other hand, no one should be judged by the e-mail he merely receives. That's why full, fair disclosure is required here - and why the attorney general's failure to achieve that is so disappointing. Kane's striptease-style handling of this sordid affair may be hastening not only the GOP's departure from the governor's mansion, but its return to the Attorney General's Office.