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Court Won't Consider Deal For Judge In Salacious Email Case

HARRISBURG, Pa. (AP) - A suspended Pennsylvania Supreme Court justice's hopes to get a court to sign off on a deal to end a disciplinary case over salacious emails were dashed Thursday when the judges wouldn't even let his lawyer outline its terms.

Justice Michael Eakin angrily declined to comment after the Court of Judicial Discipline said it would only entertain proposals about agreed-to facts, not about whether he violated conduct rules or what the punishment should be.

Eakin is accused of bringing the judiciary into disrepute by trading emails that included bawdy images and content demeaning toward women, gays, Muslims and others.

The three-judge panel hearing his case in a Pittsburgh courtroom cut off Eakin's attorney and a lawyer for the Judicial Conduct Board, saying the panel would not consider the deal hammered out with the help of a mediator. Terms of the proposed deal were not disclosed.

Bill Costopoulos, Eakin's lawyer, said emphatically that the sides had a deal and that the 67-year-old veteran justice was angry.

"And he should have been," Costopoulos told reporters. "We were brought here to Pittsburgh on 48 hours' notice, with a written deal, and we're not allowed to talk about it. We're not allowed to mention it. We're not allowed to mention the process which brought us here."

The hearing was scheduled almost immediately after Costopoulos and lawyers for the Judicial Conduct Board, which acts as a kind of prosecutor, notified the court Monday that a resolution was possible. A trial in Philadelphia is scheduled for March 29, with removal from the bench a possible punishment if Eakin is convicted.

The board says that over a four-year period that ended in 2013, Eakin sent or responded to emails that included a satirical video about a busload of "sluts" crashing, a joke about a woman told to keep "her mouth shut" after telling her doctor her drunken husband had beaten her, a "sexually suggestive thread/conversation" about one of Eakin's female employees and a joke about Tiger Woods that referred to his African-American and Asian background.

Eakin also, the board said, discussed with golfing buddies a trip to a strip club in Myrtle Beach, South Carolina, and said he had 50 "ones" and a deficit he wanted cured, using a vulgar term for women's breasts.

During testimony at a suspension hearing in December, a teary-eyed Eakin apologized, said news accounts were sensationalized and argued that his job performance had not been affected.

During the Thursday hearing, Judge Jack Panella cut off Costopoulos and warned him in stark terms not to go beyond saying if he wanted another week to submit additional stipulations, or facts that both sides can agree to.

Panella said they could not submit "binding stipulations as to whether there has been a violation or what the sanctions should be."

Afterward, board lawyer Frank Puskas declined to comment.

"It was unusual - that's the only thing I'll say," he said.

Eakin, a Republican and a former Cumberland County district attorney, has apologized for what he described as insensitive emails, but has argued his conduct does not merit discipline.

Costopoulos said Eakin would not be submitting additional stipulations.

"Why would we start admitting the facts without a deal?" Costopoulos told reporters. "He sent out 18 emails. He's accepted responsibility. What's there to try?"

The email scandal, centered on the attorney general's office, has already led to dozens of people being disciplined, fired or resigning under pressure.

Eakin's involvement first surfaced in late 2014, as the other justices suspended Justice Seamus McCaffery, a Democrat, for his participation in the emails. Eakin made public a claim that McCaffery had threatened to leak inappropriate emails Eakin had received if he did not side with him against a third justice.

McCaffery denied threatening Eakin and abruptly retired. The Judicial Conduct Board cleared Eakin, but the board launched a fresh investigation in September, after Democratic Attorney General Kathleen Kane made a fresh complaint that included additional emails that the justice sent and received.

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(Copyright 2016 The Associated Press. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed.)

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