The Pennsylvania judiciary's slumbering watchdog has stirred. The Judicial Conduct Board has at long last charged J. Michael Eakin - spousal abuse humorist, self-proclaimed "titty deficit" hawk, and state Supreme Court justice - with tarnishing his office by sending and receiving prejudiced and profane emails.
Despite his documented and strenuous efforts to avoid the consequences, the justice now claims to welcome his pending trial by the Court of Judicial Discipline. The people of Pennsylvania can welcome it more sincerely. They have been deprived of objective and transparent enforcement of ethical standards for too long, particularly in matters involving their supremely troubled high court and the offensive emails traded among scores of judges and attorneys.
What's already known about Eakin's emails is enough to conclude that he has no business on any court, let alone the commonwealth's highest. While the honorable course would be to resign, Eakin's communications do not create an expectation of honor. Given the serious doubts they raise about his impartiality and dignity, however, he should at least refrain from participating in the high court's deliberations and opinions until the case is resolved.
In addition to receiving numerous emails laden with pornographic, misogynist, racist, and homophobic content - with not a hint so far that he ever objected to any of them - Eakin relayed a "joke" about a battered woman, vowed to close his "titty deficit" by patronizing South Carolina strip clubs with fellow officers of the court, and nauseatingly imagined dragooning his female aides into sharing rooms with them.
A thorough investigation of Eakin's emails has been thwarted by the justice himself, who omitted most of them from a supposed "self-report" and then tried to skew the disciplinary proceedings in his favor; by embattled Attorney General Kathleen Kane, who discovered the emails but has hoarded many of them for ammunition against her enemies and distraction from her own transgressions; and by the Judicial Conduct Board, which ignored glaring conflicts of interest while engineering Eakin's premature exoneration last year.
Having excused its chief counsel, an Eakin associate, and two of its members from the proceedings, the board this week rightly noted that the justice's emails are incompatible with the dignity and impartiality expected of a judge. Indeed, the author of any such works would be deemed unfit to run a Radio Shack, much less an entire branch of state government.
The Supreme Court has yet to initiate the sort of comprehensive, independent investigation that Harrisburg's great pornography exchange requires. But provided that the Court of Judicial Discipline avoids the sort of conflicts that tarnished the conduct board's handling of the case, the coming trial presents a valuable opportunity for the first objective and transparent consideration of any aspect of the email scandal, which has been exacerbated by the scandalous failures of the state's institutions to muster an appropriate response.