Fear and loathing among state employees as release nears for report on porn emails

by Craig R. McCoy and Angela Couloumbis, STAFF WRITERS

Fear and loathing among state employees as release nears for report on porn emails

Fear and loathing among state employees as release nears for report on porn emails

Hundreds of Pennsylvania state workers received notice this week that they will be named in a report on the swapping of porn on government computers, stirring widespread embarrassment, outrage, and dread among those who received the warning.

Douglas Gansler, a special prosecutor appointed by former Attorney General Kathleen G. Kane to investigate the offensive emails, sent letters Wednesday afternoon to dozens of staffers in the Attorney General’s Office, as well as other employees of state government and other individuals.

The letters gave recipients until Monday morning to contest their naming and shaming. A lawyer for the Fraternal Order of Police union for the office’s narcotics agents said it would go to court to seek an injunction to block the report.

Attorney Lawrence Moran said the report would be “double-jeopardy” punishment for employees, about 60 of whom have been reprimanded or suspended over the emails.

Moran said the report amounted to an effort to “rip the scab off . . . and subject them to further degradation and discipline.”

Gansler, a former Democratic attorney general in Maryland, did not return calls seeking comment Thursday.

In response to the office upheaval, acting Attorney General Bruce L. Castor Jr. on Thursday sent out an officewide email assuring his staff that no report – or any names – would be released without his approval. The report’s release is not imminent, a Castor aide said.

“Please don’t be anxious,” Castor wrote.

It is unclear, however, how long Castor, a Republican, will be in charge. Gov. Wolf, a Democrat, has asked the state Senate to appoint a former top Kane aide, Bruce Beemer, also a Democrat, to fill out the final four months of Kane’s term.

The Senate has set his nomination vote for Tuesday. Beemer could not be reached for comment.

Kane, a Democrat, resigned last week after her conviction on perjury and other charges.

In the short term, Castor’s email seemed to have done little to quell the panic on his staff.

“People are in tears,” said a person familiar with the agency. “Nothing’s going on in the office now.”

Staffers said they were upset that Gansler’s letter did not inform them which of their emails had been flagged, when they were sent or received, and how many were at issue.

Moran, the lawyer for the FOP, said he was worried that Gansler would lump together senders of highly offensive emails with those who exchanged only mildly suggestive material – “stuff you would see on FX, not even Cinemax.”

Said an agent in the 800-employee office: “Who is this Gansler who gets to say what is obscene, racy?”

But Michelle Hamilton, president of the Pennsylvania chapter of the National Organization for Women, said the public deserves to know the names of those who sent offensive messages using “public computers which we pay for.”

The employees involved, she said, “should be taking responsibility for their actions and apologizing to the people of the commonwealth.”

In past interviews, Gansler said he would not recommend the arrest of anyone over the emails. He said the material exchanged might have violated workplace rules, but its circulation was not criminal.

Gansler has said he would not identify employees who merely received messages. He said he drew a distinction between those who received offensive messages and may have ignored them, and those who sent or forwarded them.

The notices sent to government employees this week said they were being identified because they sent emails, according to people familiar with the letter.

However, some critics say Gansler’s warning went to people who merely received troubling emails.

On Aug. 15, Kane was convicted of perjury, conspiracy, and other crimes for her participation in a scheme to leak confidential documents to embarrass a foe.

She has blamed her legal troubles on her discovery of the email scandal, but a judge refused to allow her to make that argument in court.

Kane appointed Gansler in December 2015 after receiving heavy criticism that she had weaponized the porn scandal, releasing damaging information arbitrarily or in a way to help in her ultimately unsuccessful effort to stave off her conviction on perjury charges.

Her unearthing of the email led to the resignation of several high-profile public officials, including two state Supreme Court justices and a cabinet secretary in the administration of Gov. Tom Corbett.

The emails made public so far, exchanged for years among prosecutors, agents, judges, defense lawyers, and others, contained pornography and racist or misogynistic content.

acouloumbis@phillynews.com

717-787-5934

@AngelasInk

Add comment