Pa. AG: Justice not undermined by offensive emails
Harrisburg, Pa. — There’s no evidence that government employees who swapped sexually explicit and offensive material for years through office email undermined the administration of justice, Pennsylvania’s attorney general said Tuesday in releasing a new review.
Attorney General Bruce Beemer said that a new report by a private law firm flags 38 people as high-volume senders of inappropriate emails. Thirteen senders were senior government officials at the time or judges — including two state Supreme Court justices who resigned as the scandal unfolded over the last two years.
“There are clearly offensive emails that were recovered, hundreds of them,” Beemer said. “There’s no question about that.”
But Beemer redacted the names of the senders from the report, which describe some of the emails’ contents as pornographic or containing jokes that play on racial or other stereotypes.
Beemer also attacked the methodology and findings of the report, saying some people were identified as high-volume senders even though they had sent no emails with images or racist content. Rather, many emails flagged as offensive were conversations using curse words or between friends or family members.
The review, Beemer said, found no inappropriate communication between judges and the office’s employees about cases or the justice system. The vast majority of emails dredged up by the yearlong review did not include pornographic content and were sent six or more years ago, Beemer said, as he sought to put to rest questions about the fairness of the state’s justice system.
“The findings of this report provide absolutely no new evidence to leave the citizens of Pennsylvania questioning their faith in that system,” Beemer said.
Still, he said that releasing the names of people identified by the law firm’s report would unfairly damage their reputations and leave his office vulnerable to lawsuits. Beemer said the report did not determine how many government employees were caught exchanging sexually explicit or otherwise offensive materials, on top of those who have already been disciplined or resigned.
In cases where people exchanged a high volume offensive content — defined as 50 or more emails — Beemer said the attorney general’s office will notify the agencies where they work. It also referred three judges to a state judicial ethics agency, although he noted their emails were with spouses or family members. He said the review of 6.5 million emails found no evidence of any “even remotely prosecutable” crimes.
The report by a team from the Buckley Sandler law firm, including former Maryland Attorney General Douglas Gansler, was commissioned last December by Beemer’s since-resigned predecessor, Kathleen Kane.
Kane has said her office discovered the emails’ existence after she directed a review, starting in 2013, into how her predecessors handled the Jerry Sandusky child molestation investigation.
Hundreds of pages of selected material had previously been released, both by Kane and under an order by the state Supreme Court.
People sending or receiving the emails had included some of the offices’ most senior supervisors, as well as other members of the state’s legal and law enforcement communities.
The images have included nude or scantily clad women, some involving sexual acts, distributed among prosecutors and agents who were employees of the office at the time. Others had crude jokes that played on racial or other stereotypes.
Sixty of the office’s employees were dismissed, disciplined or reprimanded, according to the attorney general’s office, while several former members of the office lost jobs they’d gone onto elsewhere after being identified as among those exchanging the emails, including a state environmental protection secretary. Beemer said Tuesday the report identified previously unknown emails within the attorney general’s office, and more may now face discipline.
Kane wove the email scandal into the narrative of the criminal charges that ultimately cost Kane her job as attorney general.
In court papers filed in 2014, her lawyers argued that two former state prosecutors had “corruptly manufactured” a grand jury investigation into Kane to protect themselves after she found they had been sending or receiving pornographic emails on their office computers.
Kane, Pennsylvania’s first elected female attorney general, resigned in August after being convicted of abusing the powers of the office to smear a rival by leaking secret investigative material to a newspaper and lying under oath to cover it up.
When Kane released volumes of the emails in 2014, her office redacted the names of all senders and receivers except for eight former members of the office — drawing criticism that she had used the emails to take revenge on the eight as perceived enemies. Several of them are suing Kane in federal court, saying she unfairly and unconstitutionally damaged their reputations. Kane had vowed last year to release all the emails but never did.