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December 08, 2015

Conduct board files charges against Eakin over 'Porngate' scandal

Justice faces ethics violations in ongoing scandal

Courts Porngate
Pennsylvania Supreme Court Justice J. Michael Eakin Matt Rourke, File/AP Photo

This Sept. 13, 2011, file photo shows Pennsylvania Supreme Court Justice J. Michael Eakin at Philadelphia's historic Old City Hall.

The board that handles judicial conduct in Pennsylvania filed charges against Supreme Court Justice Michael Eakin Tuesday regarding his supposed involvement in the "Porngate" scandal in which government officials exchanged racy emails with each other.

According to a release from the Judicial Conduct Board, Eakin, 66, is being charged with violating a section of the state constitution that says justices shall not engage in activities that "violate any canon of legal or judicial ethics."

The releases also say it is pursuing charges under the statute that justices may be removed from office for such behavior.

Eakin, a Republican, will be able to respond to the charges, and said in a statement he was looking forward to defending himself in a likely public trial before the Court of Judicial Discipline, saying it would allow him to correct "speculation and mischaracterization," of facts, according to the Philadelphia Inquirer.

The Inquirer reports the official complaint from the board says Eakin's "extreme" conduct has thrown the court into "disrepute." 

The charges follow a report from special counsel ordered by the Supreme Court that found Eakin had exchanged emails that contained jokes making light of rape and sexual assault, negative stereotypes of African Americans, and jokes offensive to Muslims, Latino immigrants, and homosexuals.

While two justices condemned the content of those messages, the court decided in November not to act on them, instead referring the case to the Judicial Conduct Board.

"In this report, Special Counsel has recommended against Supreme Court involvement, since the matter does not present the sort of extraordinary circumstances that would warrant the Court’s intervention," according to a statement issued along with the report.

Earlier in December, Gov. Tom Wolf called for the resignation of Eakin over the emails.

The emails were released by embattled Attorney General Kathleen Kane, who faces perjury and related charges for allegedly leaking secret grand jury information to the media in an attempt to embarrass Frank Fina, a former employee of her office, and then lying about it.

Fina, along with two others, has recently been reassigned in his current job at the Philadelphia Prosecutor's Office over his alleged involvement in the email scandal.

Kane, a Democrat, has claimed the charges are a cover up to counter her investigation into the emails. Kane uncovered the email scandal while conducting an investigation into the Jerry Sandusky sexual abuse scandal.