State House Sound Bites

Capitol reporter Katie Meyer covers Pennsylvania politics and issues at the Pennsylvania state capitol.

E-mail scandal brings low another high court justice

Written by Mary Wilson, Former Capitol Bureau Chief | Mar 15, 2016 12:36 PM

Photo from the PA Supreme Court website.

A second Pennsylvania Supreme Court justice is stepping down over his role in an offensive e-mails scandal.

Justice Michael Eakin is retiring in the hopes of keeping his state pension and avoiding an ethics trial before the state Court of Judicial Discipline at the end of the month. He's been on a paid suspension since December for swapping insensitive and sexually explicit jokes from a private e-mail account with others who used government accounts.

Eakin's lawyer, Bill Costopoulos of Cumberland County, told reporters his client is not pleading guilty to ethics charges, but stipulating that the e-mails were inappropriate.

"There's nothing to try," said Costopoulos. "It would be easy for me to want to try this case because of the issues that are at stake, but it's not my life's work product that I would be gambling with, it's not my pension, it's not my family, and so that's not my call."

Eakin is a former Cumberland County district attorney who has served on the state's high court since 2002.

He is the second Supreme Court justice to step down over his involvement in offensive e-mails exchanged by state employees and others. Former justice Seamus McCaffery retired in October 2014 after the Allentown Morning Call reported that he had traded lewd e-mails, and the Supreme Court chief justice reviewed the messages with technical staff at the Office of Attorney General.

The investigation into Eakin was reopened by the state Supreme Court after state Attorney General Kathleen Kane questioned that he had gotten off easy - a statement she made after her own law license was suspended pending the criminal case against her. The Philadelphia Daily News reported that a friend of Eakin's worked as counsel for the Judicial Conduct Board, which did the first review of his e-mails.

Governor Tom Wolf said in a written statement Tuesday that he will nominate a replacement to fill Eakin's spot on the high court. The appointment would require a two-thirds majority of the state Senate. A spokeswoman for the Department of State said the interim justice would serve through 2017, the year that Eakin's seat would be on the ballot.

Published in State House Sound Bites

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