Porngate: Old boys network to the rescue

     Pennsylvania Supreme Court Justice Michael Eakin at a December court hearing with his wife, Heidi Eakin (AP photo/Matt Rourke).

    Pennsylvania Supreme Court Justice Michael Eakin at a December court hearing with his wife, Heidi Eakin (AP photo/Matt Rourke).

    Seriously, again?

    The court that’s supposed to hear the misconduct case against Pennsylvania Supreme Court Justice Michael Eakin has brought in attorney Dick Sprague to try and mediate a resolution without a trial?

    What a great way to restore honor and transparency to the court whose image has been so badly bruised by the Porngate scandal.

    Mark Fazlollah and Craig McCoy of the Philadelphia Inquirer report that the state Court of Judicial Discipline has engaged Sprague to help the parties “amicably resolve some of the presently contested issues” regarding Eakin.

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    I say not so fast. There’s a process for handling judicial misconduct in Pennsylvania.

    The Judicial Conduct Board investigates complaints. If it chooses, it can level misconduct charges that are tried by the Court of Judicial Discipline.

    Eakin is awaiting trial on the charges against him arising from his email.

    The trial is supposed to be public, so we all get to see the evidence, hear Eakin’s defense, and watch the court either exonerate him or impose some form of discipline.

    If Sprague is successful, it appears it may be all settled quietly with the public simply being told the outcome and whatever the parties choose to reveal.

    You may remember that the 2014 investigation into Justice Seamus McCaffery ended with a deal that allowed McCaffery to keep his pension and avoid misconduct charges in return for resigning his post. There were no formal charges, no trial, and thus no public explanation of the facts and their consequences.

    McCaffery was reportedly under investigation for objectionable email and other alleged misconduct, including benefiting from hefty referral fees his wife received while working in his office.

    The Porngate saga is painful for a lot of people and demeaning to the court, and you can see why many in the system would want it to go away, including a couple of other Pennsylvania Supreme Court justices whom the Inquirer reports received a few troubling emails.

    But the public deserves to see this mess handled by the book, even if it’s an ugly thing to watch.

    This is a corrected version, an earlier one misidentified one reporter on the Inquirer story.  We regret the error.

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