Pennsylvania ex-justice in lewd email case may keep pension

AP News
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Posted: Mar 17, 2016 6:28 PM

HARRISBURG, Pa. (AP) — A Pennsylvania ethics board said Thursday it wants to drop a key charge against a newly resigned Supreme Court justice in a move that could help him keep his pension despite allegations he violated rules by exchanging raunchy and otherwise inappropriate emails.

The Judicial Conduct Board filed a motion to withdraw one of four ethics charges against Michael Eakin, a count that said he engaged in conduct that has brought disrepute upon the judiciary, potentially triggering pension forfeiture.

Eakin stepped down Tuesday, three months after he was put on paid suspension to await an ethics trial later this month in Philadelphia.

The board has said Eakin sent or responded to emails that included a satirical video about a busload of "sluts" crashing, a joke about a domestic violence victim being told by a doctor to keep "her mouth shut," and a joke about Tiger Woods that referred to his African-American and Asian background.

Eakin also traded emails with friends about a golfing trip to South Carolina in which they discussed visiting a strip club. Eakin enthusiastically volunteered to them that he had 50 $1 bills ready for the outing.

Eakin's pension depends on a number of factors, but could be about 70 percent of his $201,000 highest salary, or a yearly benefit of about $140,000. He's also eligible to withdraw about $508,000 in what are termed member contributions and interest, though it could lower the amount of his pension checks.

The motion did not mention Eakin's pension explicitly, but the state constitution says judges can lose their pensions if they are barred from holding judicial office for conduct that "brings the judicial office into disrepute."

The board included an email it received Wednesday from Eakin's lawyer that said the former justice will not seek senior judge status or ever be a candidate for appointment or election to any state judicial office.

Messages left for the Judicial Conduct Board and Eakin's lawyer were not immediately returned late Thursday.

Eakin also filed a broad waiver of his rights Thursday, including the right to be present at future court proceedings. It is not clear how or when the Court of Judicial Discipline will respond to the set of filings.

Eakin, 67, had been on the state's highest court since 2002. Before that, he served on an intermediate appellate court and was the elected Republican district attorney in Cumberland County, outside Harrisburg.

Dozens of people have been disciplined — including firings and resignations — as a result of the scandal that has been largely centered on the attorney general's office. The current attorney general, Democrat Kathleen Kane, has actively pursued the issue and is currently awaiting the results of a review of her office's emails by Doug Gansler, the former Maryland attorney general.

Eakin had been cleared by the board in late 2014, about the time another justice, Democrat Seamus McCaffery, was forced from office as a result of his participation. But the board launched a fresh probe this fall, after Kane contacted authorities with additional emails.

Eakin and the other justices voted in September to suspend Kane's license as she battles criminal allegations she leaked secret grand jury information to a newspaper and lied about it. Kane has insisted she is not guilty and has attributed her legal troubles to her efforts to take on an "old boys' club" within the state's legal community and law enforcement. She is not seeking re-election this year.