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Nazareth, Pa., United States

Tuesday, December 22, 2015

PC Police Take Aim at Supreme Court Justice Over Naughty Emails

It was quite the sight yesterday morning, As I made my way into the rotunda at the Northampton County Courthouse, I was astonished at the sheer volume of reporters from all over, waiting outside. Was this gaggle waiting for some evil ax murderer to be hauled in, shrieking and howling? Hannibal Lecter? A terrorist cell? No. They were waiting for a sitting justice of the Pennsylvania Supreme Court to do the perp walk. His dastardly offense is far worse. Naughty emails. So egregious were his deeds that he was ordered to appear before a three-judge panel to explain why he shouldn't be suspended immediately.

Justice Eakin did eventually make it through the gauntlet. He actually stopped and talked to reporters, asking only that they be fair to him. Once he got inside, he was forced to go through a metal detector, just like anyone who lacks one of the passes issued by Sheriff David Dalrymple. I saw him as he wandered down a hallway, with a bewildered look on his face, obviously well outside his comfort zone. It had to be a humbling experience for a man who has served as Cumberland County's District Attorney, Superior Court Judge and Supreme Court Justice.

On December 8, in a 51-page complaint, Justice Eakin was charged with violating all kinds of Judicial Canons as well as the Pennsylvania Constitution for acting like a human being. Though there was absolutely no hint of any evidence that he engaged in any ex parte conversations with attorneys about pending cases, he did use a state -supplied computer to send and mostly receive naughty emails. The kind most of us get every day.

Interestingly, the Complaint makes clear that Justice Eakin set up a personal email account under the name "John Smith" for his private exchanges with golfing and fishing buddies. It was a way to enable a high-profile Supreme Court Justice to still be one of the guys.

Or so he thought.

The presiding judge in the three-judge panel that heard the evidence yesterday was one of Northampton County's own - Northampton County Judge turned Superior Court Judge Jack Panella. Judge Panella started by explaining why the hearing was being held in Easton. "There's a very simple and short answer," he said. "I am from Easton."

Judge Panella was joined by Judge David J Barton, a Magisterial District Judge, and Carmella Mullen, a lay member first appointed to the Court by Governor Corbett. Both Barton and Mullen hail from Allegheny County.

The case against Justice Eakin was very simple. It consisted mainly of the hard drive containing the emails.

Eakin was represented by prominent attorney Bill Costopoulos.

He called two of Eakin's staffers, who were discussed suggestively in a few emails exchanged between Eakin and a former Assistant DA who worked with Eakin when he was Cumberland County's DA. Both of these women spoke on behalf of Eakin. Both stated that he has always treated them professionally and has never made suggestive comments to either of them. They both denied that they had every gone on any outing or trip with him or anyone else in this group of golfing and fishing buddies. When one of them married recently, Justice Eakin attended the ceremony. Both said they respect him.

In addition to these two staffers, Sam Stretton testified as an expert on judicial ethics. He attended Dickinson School of law with Eakin, and represents a large number of lawyers and judges charged with ethical breaches. Stretton's conclusion is that there was no ethical breach by Eakin because his emails were for a very limited group of close friends. He said they were "locker room mentality" and that "judges have to have a sense of privacy in their lives."

"There's not a man or judge alive who has not looked at pornography and laughed at off color jokes," he added. He warned that the Judicial Conduct Board was on a slippery slope and worried about "thought control."

But Disciplinary Counsel Elizabeth Flaherty called the emails a "runaway train" and her associate, Francis Puskas, told the Court that one has to wonder whether Eakin has a conscious or unconscious bias.

That concern was answered by Attorney John Hare, an appeals lawyer who read through 20 years of decisions written by Eakin. "Nothing in them suggests anything that is inappropriate," he testified.

Eakin himself repeatedly apologized and nearly broke down a few times.

As I left, two local lawyers told me that Justice Eakin should be held to a higher standard and suspended. But a reporter with one of the TV stations called the whole hearing a waste of everyone's time. I'm with her.

But it's not up to me. Cases like these are why Judge Panella gets the big bucks.

Judge Panella, incidentally, made it a point to thank Sheriff David Dalrymple, Executive John Brown and President Judge Steve Baratta for their cooperation and willingness to provide a forum.

Updated 5:49 pm: Justice Eakin has just been suspended, pending full adjudication, with pay.


Anonymous said...

Since your legal career was the opposite of stellar of course you would see no problem with behavior like this. That may be a hint as to why you blew it as an officer of the court.
He should be help to a high standard, If people wanted high school type guys on the Supreme court the laws could be changed. In the meantime we expect adult, dignified and high standards. That is something you have never understood as evidenced by your life history.

Of course you make excuses for pornography, you have probably enjoyed a great deal of it when you and the Stoff got together.

Most people do not condone that behavior form people of responsibility and authority.

Anonymous said...

I agree with you Bernie. When I appear in front of a judge, I want him to be a regular fellow, not some phony. Who doesn't like a laugh once in a while? Even if it is a naughty e-mail or an off color joke. We're human. We all make fun of our heritage and as long as it isn't racist to the degree of degradation, who the hell cares. So Eakin shared some naughty e-mails. 3:29 is obviously a Bernie Ohare hater.

Anonymous said...

This pales in comparison to releasing sealed grand jury testimony and committing perjury. That's what the state's top law enforcement official (allegedly) did to get her license suspended. And she still has her job.

Anonymous said...

Poor 8:04AM and 3:29AM sound like MezzaCrazy and her Lehigh Valley Nobody buddy whose life ended 10 years ago, and have nothing better to do than stalk aimlessly someone day after day.

That's pathetic. Meanwhile, their target soldiers on, unflappable. There is no moss growing on his feet, and these people have one foot in the grave.

Anonymous said...

Looking at pornographic emails that are laughable is a far cry from reeping souls¿!($ In one instance a administration law judge said and I quote "(I see nothing wrong with it)" this was to a document that was offering casual sex¿!($ The document itself was a cover for building a clientel list¿!($ The soulsale sector subdivisional tools in my local to the west but one currently under attack by the land pirates of the day, rape pilliage and plunder¿!($ The snakeoil salesmen are just another ASSpect of many in the circus sideshows toolbox of tools¿!($ HAPPY EASTER¿!($
patent pending

Anonymous said...

this guy is a judge should be doing the peoples work not watching porn on his computer.If that happened to normal people they would lose their job.And this guy should to.

Bernie O'Hare said...

Having read the complaint, there ws very little of what I would call porn or sexually graphic material. He did make a few comments I might expect from a high school jock, not a Supreme Court justice. He also did use a state computer to make these private remarks, and that was an abuse. But i don't think you suspend someone over that kind of behavior.

I believe he deserves nothing more than a private or public reprimand, and for using the state computers, not for the goofy email. He should not be sanctioned at all for what he received. He has no control over that sort of thing.

Anonymous said...

Asserting that Eakin's sexual/off-color emails were "never intended to be made public" and that they have "nothing to do with performance of the job" are unacceptable defenses for the art and humor he traded with others during work hours using a work computer. Imagine yourself one of his female staff, doing your job with purpose and focus, while this kind of "male banter" continues around and about you. As with "Take a Letter, Maria," today's culture is still too enamored by the vision that the little lady will gush over flowers and be wowed by the boss man declaring "it just so happens I'm free tonight, would you like to have dinner with me?" And that moldy-oldie dates back to the late 60's!

Bernie O'Hare said...

His female staff were never exposed to those emails until Kathleen kane decided to make them public. They testified he treated them with "utter respect" and the "male banter" you find so offensive was strictly relegated to cyberspace. If we've reached the point in which private humor and rowdy male dialogue are the subjects of judicial discipline, we've gone too far.

Anonymous said...

"there is not a man alive who hasn't looked at pornography or laughed at off color jokes." Maybe, but one difference is that not all of those men have held positions of public trust, or been called out publicly for looking and laughing--though some have. Just b/c you get caught doesn't mean you are exonerated by pointing to all the people who didn't get caught and saying "they did it too." Everyone knows that by committing certain comments to email, you run the risk of them becoming public. Your intent when sending it doesn't bind the other person and there is a fair chance that the info will get out. He--as a lawyer and a judge--should have known better than to engage in that sort of dialog at all, in writing, and on a work-owned computer. Stop making excuses.

Anonymous said...

Calling male banter "offensive" is not in my text, but to clarify, I see it as distracting. It is meaningful and fun to those delivering it, but often not to those stuck in the same room with it. And it did enter the room, if the Inquirer update about the bouquet of flowers as apology is to be believed. And his staff -- how are they going to be able to say anything other than what they did during an inquiry, unless they can risk their jobs? They can even like the judge! That still doesn't make suggestive comments/sexual innuendo/off-color remarks appropriate in the work place, and I can't believe the culture suggested by this emailing didn't seep into his work place, which my tax dollars fund. I agree we've gone too far, but I guess we disagree as to where.

Bernie O'Hare said...

Your points are well taken and have been expressed to me in a similar fashion by some attorneys who watched the case. I don't even Judge Panella and his colleagues. They will be fanned if they do and damned if they don't.

michael molovinsky said...

although his recently married secretary testified that she was not offended about the banter concerning her rear end, that strains credibility. this judge was known for rendering decisions that rhyme, now let him rhyme his own crime. i don't think that he and other public sector employees should be suspended with pay, i think that they should be terminated, without pay. harrisburg (state government) is rotten to the core.

Bernie O'Hare said...

What you mean is that it strains credulity. Merry Christmas, MM. I'm going to post a Christmas tree in your honor.

Anonymous said...

Fire the creepy jerk.

Anonymous said...

Let this be a lesson in using work computers for non-work items. Get an iPad with a cellular plan (don't use your work wifi). Be 100% off of your employers network for your personal business. Employers have the mandate to monitor both computer use and network access. If you don't want your employer to view that which you send/receive then don't do these things on their computers. This is the lapse in judgment, not the exchange of tawdry email.

I'm a huge fan of pornography and off color jokes. But I do these things on my time and my devices with no connection to my employer.

Kudos to the Judge in making a fictitious email account. It's the one smart thing that he did.

Anonymous said...

The public has no idea