Attorney General Kane to reveal workers’ discipline in smutty email scandal
HARRISBURG — Attorney General Kathleen Kane’s office this week intends to outline disciplinary actions taken against current employees who might have sent or received sexually explicit emails from 2008 to 2012, but Kane won’t release names of anyone involved, her spokeswoman said.
As many as 30 employees might have taken part in the pornographic email chains under prior Republican administrations, said spokeswoman Renee Martin.
Martin said the office intends to report broad results of an internal investigation but not the details of who was disciplined or the nature of the discipline.
Terry Mutchler, executive director of the Office of Open Records, said the Right to Know Law is clear that agencies must release records if an employee is “fired or demoted.”
The attorney general “may exercise discretion to release records if it is determined the information is in the public interest,” Mutchler said.
Kane’s office last month said collective bargaining agreements with unions representing some employees require it to avoid causing “embarrassment before other employees or the public.” The office also cited an exemption under the law for internal investigations.
Mutchler and Melissa Melewsky, media law counsel for the Pennsylvania NewsMedia Association, agree the law exempts release of records during internal investigations. Interpretations differ once those investigations are complete, though both experts reject the notion that union contracts prevent release of information under the open records law.
“You can throw collective bargaining agreements out the window,” Melewsky said.
The law trumps contracts, Mutchler said.
Kane’s office said violating provisions of union contracts could result in civil lawsuits and increased costs to taxpayers. But Mutchler said the open records law should not be “held hostage” because of potential litigation.
Still, making public any records involving current employees might come down to Kane’s discretion, Mutchler said.
Kane last month used her authority as the state’s top prosecutor to release samples of email text and images for eight former officials showing nude women and people engaged in sexual acts.
Kane had rejected open records requests from the Tribune-Review and other newspapers, but then said she was releasing heavily redacted emails in the public interest.
“There’s no public interest in outing person A and not person B,” said Simon Campbell, who heads a Bucks County group, Pennsylvanians for Union Reform.
Mutchler finds inequity in releasing some emails on a discretionary basis and not others.
“You have a scenario here where classes of people are being treated differently,” she said. Most of the eight former officials were nonunion managers.
Among those named, two lawyers who still worked for Republican Gov. Tom Corbett, the former attorney general, resigned from his administration. A Corbett appointee to the state Board of Probation and Parole retired. A former top-ranking official in the Attorney General’s Office resigned a part-time position for the Lancaster County district attorney. A former prosecutor left his private law firm by mutual agreement.
Former Supreme Court Justice Seamus McCaffery retired last week. His colleagues had suspended him for forwarding smutty emails to an attorney general’s staffer, and for other allegations.
Brad Bumsted is Trib Total Media’s state Capitol reporter. Reach him at 717-787-1405 or [email protected].