HARRISBURG, Pa. (AP) — Pennsylvania’s governor called on a state Supreme Court justice to resign Sunday over his involvement in swapping emails containing lewd images and other objectionable content, part of a scandal that has roiled the state’s legal system.
Gov. Tom Wolf said Justice Michael Eakin was complicit in sharing racist, sexist and otherwise derogatory content — and attempted to add a member to the judicial ethics panel that may soon have to review his role in the email ring.
“Given the nature of Justice Eakin’s conduct, and the real concern that he could not be impartial in presiding over cases involving the groups of people he disparaged in his emails, he should resign,” Wolf said in a statement.
Eakin’s lawyer, Bill Costopoulos, told The Associated Press the justice does not intend to step down and voiced disappointment over the governor’s statement. The allegations against Eakin should be aired in a public forum where the justice can address them and “put this matter to rest,” he said.
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“Once everything is there, we hope this matter will be concluded fairly and believe that it will be,” Costopoulos said. “With that as a given, a resignation is not part of this package.”
The state Judicial Conduct Board, a sort of prosecutor that investigates cases of misconduct by judges, is currently investigating Eakin and could bring charges to the Court of Judicial Discipline.
On Sunday, Chief Justice Thomas Saylor said he recently nominated Karen Snider, a former state Public Welfare secretary, to fill a vacancy on the court, but pulled the nomination over questions about Eakin’s involvement in her appointment. Snider declined comment to The Associated Press on Sunday.
Saylor said Snider was an excellent candidate and has no known ties to any member of his court.
“However, during the course of deliberations concerns were raised as to the participation of Justice Eakin in the decision,” Saylor said in a statement released by the court system.
Wolf said that Eakin showed a “remarkable lack of judgment” by taking part in Snider’s nomination.
The Philadelphia Inquirer first reported Sunday the court’s consideration of Snider for the open seat on the Court of Judicial Discipline.
Eakin’s email practices became a subject of investigation more than a year ago, after an internal review of how the Jerry Sandusky child sexual abuse scandal was handled by the attorney general’s office turned up evidence of the widespread email ring involving state prosecutors, judges and others.
Another justice, Seamus McCaffery, was suspended and then abruptly retired late last year, in part over his own participation in the email scandal. Eakin was cleared in late 2014 after notifying the Judicial Conduct Board that McCaffery pressured him to take his side. But more of Eakin’s emails have surfaced in recent months.
In October, Eakin called it “disconcerting and embarrassing to find others searching years of private personal emails looking for and publicizing any insensitive content.” He apologized but insisted they did not reflect his character and did not affect court business.
In early November, the high court announced the results of a new investigation into Eakin it had commissioned from a law firm.
That investigation found that Eakin sent 157 emails with material described as “insensitive, chauvinistic and offensive to women,” but none that could be described as racist or homophobic, and no pornography. Eakin received emails with negative stereotypes of African-Americans, emails that demeaned Latinos and jokes offensive to Muslims and gays, the law firm reported.
The report said Eakin sent several emails with banter about trips to strip clubs while on golf outings, and that he and a lawyer engaged in “inappropriate sexual innuendo” about women they know. The Philadelphia Inquirer reported details about similar-sounding emails on Saturday.