Porngate reborn: Pa., law firm clash over money owed for email review

Doug Gansler

Doug Gansler

The Porngate scandal — which has engulfed Pennsylvania’s political class over two years — took yet another turn this week.

The latest controversy revolves around how much the state should pay a law firm hired to investigate lascivious and racist  emails swapped among judges and other state employees.

So far the state has doled out roughly $385,000 to BuckleySandler, the firm that conducted the email probe. BuckleySandler has billed the state for another $1.5 million, according to Chuck Ardo, spokesman for the Pennsylvania attorney general’s office. The office, however, isn’t satisfied with the quality of the firm’s work, said Ardo, and has balked at that price.

“The office doesn’t believe that the entire amount should be paid,” Ardo said. “And how much will be paid is certainly what we are talking to the BuckleySandler firm about.”

The Philadelphia Inquirer first reported the dispute between the Pennsylvania Attorney General and Buckley Sandler.

Just over a year ago, then-Pennsylvania Attorney General Kathleen Kane hired BuckleySandler attorney Douglas Gansler, the former attorney general of Maryland, to sort through millions of state employee emails to look for racist, misogynistic or otherwise offensive material. Kane has since resigned her office and been convicted of perjury.

Kane’s appointed successor, Bruce Beemer, released the Gansler report in November, but indicated from the get-go he was unhappy with the final product. Beemer withheld the names of state employees identified in Gansler’s findings because of concerns that it would open the state up to lawsuits. Beemer also said the report misrepresented innocuous emails as offensive and implicated too many low-level state employees, risking their reputations in the process.

“As Mr. Beemer pointed out in his news conference when he released the Gansler report … he had concerns about its quality,” said Ardo. “I think that is the fundamental issue here.”

Gansler defended his work at the time of its release, arguing that the trove of emails showed a pattern of poor judgment and poor taste among state employees. Gansler’s search turned up nearly 12,000 emails that investigators deemed inappropriate.

Gansler did not immediately respond to requests for comment on the billing dispute.

Beemer will be replaced by Democrat Josh Shapiro in January. Beemer is hoping to settle the dispute and close the book on Porngate by the time Shapiro takes office.

“Mr. Beemer would like the incoming attorney general to have a clean slate and not to have to deal with any of the aftermath of the previous administration,” said Ardo. “He will do whatever he can in a reasonable and responsible way to get this thing settled, if at all possible.”

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