Pennsylvania Supreme Court Justice J. Michael Eakin apparently still doesn't get it. It's hard to come to any other conclusion given his apologetic response in a hearing Monday to determine whether he should be suspended while a judicial panel investigates his role in a pornographic email scandal.
Eakin portrayed himself as the victim of a "media circus" and suggested that sending and receiving off-color emails was "not criminal; it has nothing to do with my performance or job." Criminal? Maybe not. But it was still wrong.
The crudeness of some of the emails in question suggests a character that Pennsylvanians, perhaps naively, do not expect of Supreme Court justices. For too long, they have seen their judicial system held up as a joke, with justices resigning in scandal, an attorney general facing criminal charges, and lower-court judges convicted of taking bribes and running businesses from their judicial chambers. In such an environment, the email scandal becomes symbolic of a much bigger problem that must be addressed.
The state Court of Judicial Discipline held a hearing Monday in Easton on whether to suspend Eakin while he awaits a decision by the state Judicial Conduct Board, which earlier this month charged Eakin with misconduct for sending emails containing sexually explicit and other offensive content. The board said Eakin had "engaged in conduct so extreme that it brought the judicial office into disrepute."
In addition to receiving numerous emails laden with pornographic, misogynist, racist, and homophobic content, Eakin relayed a joke about a battered woman, vowed to close his "titty deficit" by patronizing strip clubs with fellow officers of the court, and nauseatingly imagined getting his female aides to share rooms with them during a planned golf outing in Myrtle Beach, S.C.
Eakin's office manager, Lynn Zembower, and his secretary, Janey Thrush, testified at Monday's hearing that they were not offended by the email messages. Thrush said she had "nothing but utter respect and admiration for" Eakin. That's what one might expect a loyal employee who believes she knows her boss well to say. But Eakin's emails raise legitimate questions about another side of him.
The Supreme Court has proven incapable of investigating one of its own. Attorney General Kathleen Kane discovered the emails linked to Eakin and other officials more than a year ago, but her investigation was marred by her release of specific emails strategically to attack political enemies.
It's up to the Judicial Conduct Board to handle the case in an objective and transparent manner. Eakin tearfully asked Monday that he not be suspended while the board deliberates. But allowing him to hear cases could unecessarily call into question Supreme Court rulings.