From a "joke" about a battered woman to newly revealed verbal leering at public employees, Pennsylvania Supreme Court Justice J. Michael Eakin's emails to fellow judges and attorneys are repugnant enough. His increasingly brazen attempts to rig the investigation of these transgressions only compound them. Having proven himself unfit to judge the state's citizens, much less supervise other judges as a member of the nation's oldest appellate court, Eakin should resign.
That Eakin received many offensive emails and sent a few has been known for months. Additional messages disclosed by The Inquirer last week provide more troubling evidence of active and aggressive disdain for women. They find him not only eagerly anticipating a chance to close his "titty deficit" at South Carolina strip clubs, but also responding enthusiastically to a prosecutor's suggestion that the justice's female aides be somehow persuaded to join their adolescent adventure. "I'll take care of her rooming needs," Eakin wrote of one.
For obvious reasons, the justice seems to have taken great pains to prevent objective examination of his Cro-Magnon sensibilities. Amid scrutiny of a fellow justice last year, he omitted many of his dirty emails from a supposed "self-report." His premature exoneration was subsequently delivered by the Judicial Conduct Board's chief counsel, Robert Graci, who represented Eakin's retention campaign.
Last month, the justice suggested that this and other conflicts might be cured by allowing his case to be handled by the Court of Judicial Discipline instead of the Judicial Conduct Board. The attempt to dictate the terms of his own investigation and turn it over to a non-investigative body was as arrogant as it was absurd.
But Eakin apparently wasn't content to choose his venue; he also reportedly tried to pack the court in his favor. He and Chief Justice Thomas Saylor were contriving to rush a presumably sympathetic member onto the Court of Judicial Discipline, retreating only after The Inquirer exposed the plot.
As the reform group Pennsylvanians for Modern Courts, a former chief justice, a former U.S. attorney, and the Philadelphia and Pennsylvania bars have noted, the email scandal calls for a thorough, independent investigation. But Eakin has done enough to impede such an investigation - and to violate the dignity and impartiality required of his position - to make a preemptive case for his removal.
Attorney General Kathleen Kane, who discovered the offensive emails linked to Eakin and scores of other officials more than a year ago, launched her own supposed investigation last week. But she remains hopelessly compromised by criminal charges, a bid to remove her from office, and a trail of botched investigations. While using the emails to distract from that unenviable record and attack her enemies, she has all but ignored the involvement of many of her subordinates, including one of Eakin's chief interlocutors.
The scandal and the insufficient response to it also reflect increasingly poorly on Eakin's fellow justices. They might salvage their reputations by taking steps to remove him and initiate an independent investigation.
Moreover, the legislature and Gov. Wolf, who has rightly called on both Eakin and Kane to resign, should seize the opportunity to reform the quasi-democratic exercises that have saddled the state with unqualified judges and brought its highest court low.