HARRISBURG, Pa. (WHTM) – There is an opening on the Pennsylvania Supreme Court after Justice J. Michael Eakin announced his retirement Tuesday morning.
It’s effective immediately.
And the web has ensnared its second Supreme Court justice for inappropriate activity on the web. Eakin joins Seamus McCaffery who stepped down in 2014. The pair was caught exchanging offensive emails that were discovered and released by Attorney General Kathleen Kane.
“I just think this is a very slippery slope we’re on,” said Bill Costopoulos, Eakin’s attorney. “It’s a dangerous time we’re in.”
Costopoulos presented Eakin’s retirement papers at the Pennsylvania Judicial Center around 11 a.m. and then answered media questions. He said Eakin admitted forwarding a handful of emails that were offensive, but not pornographic, on his personal account.
He said the justice apologized but came to the conclusion that he must retire for the good of his family and the courts. But Costopoulos believes that the penalty is too harsh for the crime.
“This is the only process I know of in America where you can be charged with sending emails to friends that were inappropriate and face the death penalty,” Costopoulos said. “I just don’t think that’s right.”
Eakin had been suspended with pay ($203,000 annually). It’s unclear if the ethics charges he was facing before the Court of Judicial Discipline will affect his pension.
There are now six justices on the high court, five of them Democrats. Governor Wolf said he will work quickly to nominate Eakin’s replacement, who must then be confirmed by the Senate.
Wolf said Eakin did the right thing by stepping down.
“I called for his resignation,” Wolf said. “I think we all in public service, we have to make sure we’re keeping the trust of the people we serve.”
Eakin, 68, is a Mechanicsburg native and former Cumberland County district attorney. Eakin was first elected to the high court in 2001 and retained in 2011.
“It’s a sad close to what had been a distinguished career,” said Senator John Rafferty (R-Montgomery, a candidate for attorney general. He considers Eakin a friend but agrees with Wolf that the justice needed to step aside.
“So we can get the Supreme Court once again focused on determining justice here in the Commonwealth of Pennsylvania and not caught up in email servers and emails being sent back and forth,” Rafferty said.
Rafferty also criticized Kane’s role in the scandal. She has selectively released emails, Rafferty said, that seem to target political enemies. He also said she times the release of emails to distract attention from her own alleged wrongdoing. Rafferty said she should have released everything she had all at once and be done with it.
As for Eakin, he just wants to get out of the web.
“It’s time to put this email scandal behind us,” Costopoulos said. “There’s nothing more the justice (Eakin) can do than what he did today.”