HARRISBURG, Pa. (WHTM) – It was a no-win situation for Attorney General Bruce Beemer, and he knew it.
“I’m sorry if people aren’t satisfied, I really am,” he said during a Tuesday news conference releasing a report about offensive emails shared on state computers by state employees.
It was much-anticipated and much-delayed, and Beemer sensed that critics would not be satisfied in the way he chose to release information from what was billed as an independent review by Doug Gansler, a former Maryland attorney general currently with the Washington, D.C. law firm Buckley Sandler.
Gansler’s report, commissioned last December, was completed in August. But it was a time bomb for Beemer and he did his best to defuse it. He did release the actual offensive emails, some pornographic, others racist and insensitive. He also released a disk with thousands of items including pictures and jokes. But there was lots of black ink redacting the names of senders and receivers. Beemer admits some were senior government officials, even judges, under those black bars. Their identities are safe, for now.
“It just flies in the face of fairness and justice for everybody,” Beemer said. “Everybody wants the names because they think that will give them certain answers, but nobody wants to deal with the consequences of the way a report like this can unfairly tarnish a significant number of people that were included in that report.”
Beemer said the AG’s office could be sued for unfairly outing people, despite the fact that Gansler was comfortable naming names. Beemer said it’s not his job to be a “moral authority” for non-AG employees. He added that he will notify superiors of the employees in county, state and federal agencies whose emails were especially offensive. He also passed along judges’ emails to the Judicial Conduct Board for possible discipline.
Last December, then-Attorney General Kathleen Kane complained of a “good old boys network” that poisoned the Pennsylvania justice system and she commissioned Gansler to investigate. She wanted a top-to-bottom review of the email scandal and she wanted all involved publicly named. Previously, Supreme Court justices Seamus McCaffery and Michael Eakin stepped down, caught up in the web of inappropriate emails.
Beemer said Tuesday that he disagrees with the entire premise of bringing in a law firm from outside the state to investigate a law enforcement agency within the commonwealth.
“There’s a way to go about that and that ain’t it,” Beemer said. He said he also disagreed, at the time, with Kane’s decision to selectively name a handful of Governor Tom Corbett officials tied to the scandal who also lost their jobs.
Most importantly, Beemer said, is that the report does not support Kane’s assertion of a “good old boys network” tilting justice in the state.
“There’s no evidence that prosecutors or other attorneys from the Office of Attorney General engaged in improper communication or contact with judges in this commonwealth that affected the administration of justice or the outcome of cases,” Beemer said.
Beemer called the decision to release the report without naming names a difficult one. He said he sought the counsel of four senior staff attorneys including three women and one African-American. He said they all concluded it was best to redact the emails, even though the report points to 38 high-volume senders of emails and 13 judges and senior government officials.
Government watchdogs like Simon Campbell completely disagree. He has filed a right-to-know request for the unedited version of the Gansler report, arguing that since taxpayers bought it, they have a right to see it without the Bruce Beemer filter.
“Are we supposed to just trust in them?” Campbell asks. “This is Pennsylvania, Dennis. Too many of these people go to jail. We can’t trust in government in Pennsylvania. That would be very naïve.”
Beemer insists that nothing illegal was uncovered in the report. He also believes the report’s methodology was flawed as it flagged keywords in emails that weren’t really offensive or pornographic but whose authors were named in the Gansler report.
Taxpayers have spent nearly $400,00 on the report but unpaid invoices would push the total much higher. Beemer said his office is reviewing the bills to see how much more money, if any, it should pay.