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'Porngate' Just Became the Greatest Judicial Scandal of Our Time

By William Peacock, Esq. | Last updated on

When "Porngate" first erupted, it seemed like a minor blip, especially the involvement of Justice Seamus McCaffery of the Pennsylvania Supreme Court. He sent porn, from a personal email address, to a handful of colleagues in other state offices.

It's porn. From a personal account. None of which seemed to be illegal. What's the big deal?

It's apparently a much bigger deal than we thought, as the Pennsylvania Supreme Court has just suspended Justice McCaffery with pay pending an investigation by the state Judicial Conduct Board. The opinions publicly air a number of grievances, including alleged unethical financial dealings and alleged ticket-fixing for his wife, an alleged attempt to pull a fellow justice into the fray by threatening to leak more emails, and of course, the original emails themselves (which are pretty damn racy).

Oh, and Chief Justice Ron Castille just called Justice McCaffery a "sociopath" in his published concurrence.

Much Ado About Porn

The first reports put the number of emails forwarded by McCaffery at a mere eight; a newspaper then identified 54 email messages that were sent or received by McCaffery. The emails were sent from a personal account, which made us wonder what the big deal was.

Now? Chief Justice Castille released an accounting of more than 230 emails sent or received between 2008 and 2012 that contained graphic sexual images and videos, including:

  • Emails to at least one state employee (though Castille references a number of state employees who have since resigned in the wake of the scandal, and labels McCaffery the "instigator" of Porngate);
  • According to Castille's concurrence, "an email depicting a naked 100-year-old woman as the target of a sexually explicit joke"; and
  • A "video of a woman in sexual congress with a snake that is clearly obscene and may violate the Crimes Code Section on Obscenity."

Extorting a Fellow Justice?

But it wasn't just the porn. There were also reports that McCaffery put pressure on Justice J. Michael Eakin to help him suppress the scandal. When he refused, somebody leaked the news that Eakin had an anonymous email account that was part of the Porngate chain, reports the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette.

In a statement last week, Eakin alleged: "Yesterday, Justice McCaffery caused certain material, sent to my private email account some years ago, to be given to the media. I have not seen the material, nor do I wish to, but insofar as receiving such may be seen as violative of the rules of conduct, I have referred the matter to the Judicial Conduct Board."

Eakin also said that McCaffery warned him that he "was not going down alone."

Past Transgressions Involving His Wife

The suspension order isn't limited to the Porngate controversy: It also mentions alleged improprieties committed by and on behalf of McCaffery's wife.

There is alleged traffic ticket fixing: McCaffery reportedly called a now-convicted traffic court official to fix a wrong-way ticket that his wife received.

There was also the referral fees scandal: McCaffery's wife, while working as his administrative assistant, was allegedly receiving referral fees from firms with cases before the court. Castille alleged that she "[ran] a law practice out of a Supreme Court chambers, earning millions of dollars."

For his part, McCaffery has previously pointed out that all of these allegations have been investigated, with no charges filed.

Personal Animosity

The suspension order is dripping with animosity. Castille calls McCaffery a "sociopath" and rants about how McCaffery is blaming everyone for his troubles while refusing to take any blame. Castille also said this:

Justice McCaffery is correct in one of his allegations against me. I have been attempting to remove Justice McCaffery from this Court. In my two decades of experience on this Court, no other Justice, including Justice Joan Orie Melvin, has done as much to bring the Supreme Court into disrepute. No other Justice has failed to live up to the high ethical demands required of a Justice of this Court or has been the constant focus of ethical lapses to the degree of Justice McCaffery."

Orie Melvin, of course, was the last Pennsylvania Supreme Court justice to be suspended by the court, a little more than two years ago. She's now a convicted felon after she was caught, along with her two sisters, using one of her sister's (Pennsylvania state senator Jane Orie's) staff and office resources to help run her campaign for the court.

The only person who seems to have a clear head is Justice Debra Todd, who dissented from the suspension order, noting the transparent animosity and acrimony and stating that, "based upon unvetted claims and allegations, a majority of our Court, one of whom is deeply involved in this controversy, has suspended a fellow Justice.

"Every day, this Court is charged with according due process to litigants, and we faithfully carry out that constitutional obligation," Todd continued. "Even a Justice is entitled to due process."

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