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Identity & Community

Court Says Porn Emails Not Public, But Also Not Protected

kane_kathleen.jpg
Matt Rourke
/
AP

A state court has ruled that pornographic e-mails exchanged among work e-mail accounts by employees of the Office of Attorney General are not public records. 

But the decision does not stop Attorney General Kathleen Kane from releasing the e-mails first requested by The Philadelphia Inquirer, the Commonwealth Court judges said in their 12-page majority opinion.

“There’s nothing that would preclude her from releasing these emails and of course that’s what we call on her to do,” said Terry Mutchler, who represented the Inquirer in court. The Inquirer has not decided if it will file an appeal with the state Supreme Court.

Kane’s office spokesman said Kane is reviewing the ruling and will likely announce her plans in a written statement next Wednesday.

The e-mails in question don’t qualify as public records, the court said, because the messages are of a personal nature, and unrelated to the official business of the Office of Attorney General.

“What makes an email a ‘public record,’ then, is whether the information sought documents an agency transaction or activity,” wrote President Judge Dan Pellegrini, “and the fact whether the information is sent to, stored on or received by a public or personal computer is irrelevant in determining whether the email is a ‘public record.’”

Kane has released select risqué e-mails over the past year implicating current and former office employees, and members of the judiciary. The piecemeal release has led to firings, disciplinary actions, the forced resignation of a former state Supreme Court justice, and a second investigation into sitting Supreme Court Justice Michael Eakin.  

The attorney general is also facing criminal charges, including perjury and conspiracy, for allegedly leaking secret investigative information to a newspaper to embarrass her detractors. She says the charges have been trumped up by men seeking to derail her efforts to uncover inappropriate e-mails.

It was not immediately clear to Kane’s spokesman if the attorney general still has the authority to release the requested e-mails even if she so desired.

Kane’s law license was indefinitely suspended last month in light of the criminal case against her, and she is not allowed to engage in the practice of law. Her top deputies told a special state Senate panel this week that they have taken on her duties.