Pennsylvania’s state’s judicial ethics tribunal has suspended Supreme Court Justice J. Michael Eakin for his involvement in the “Porngate” scandal, saying his continued presence on the bench harmed the public’s trust in the judiciary, the Philadelphia Inquirer reports. The Court of Judicial Discipline said Eakin sent and received offensive email messages, some containing images of naked women and jokes mocking minorities, women, and others, that have “tainted the Pennsylvania judiciary in the eyes of the public.” The suspension will remain in effect until the court decides at trial whether Eakin, a Republican, violated judicial conduct rules when he exchanged the emails.
Eakin’s suspension followed a tumultuous year for the state’s highest court, one that saw another justice, Seamus McCaffery, a Democrat, step down from the bench after becoming entangled in the scandal. The suspension brings the until-now Republican-controlled seven-member court down to just four members: two Democrats and two Republicans, one of whom is retiring. Three new justices, all Democrats, are to be sworn in next month. Eakin, 67, tearfully apologized for the messages, saying he never intended for them to be made public. The emails were from his private email account, but were captured on government servers because they were exchanged with a friend in the state Attorney General’s Office who used his work email. Eakin blamed “the tabloid press” for sensationalizing the matter and creating a perception that the criminal justice system had been corrupted by the exchange of the crude emails among judges, prosecutors, lawyers, and others.