Pa. high court nominee in hot seat over 'Christmas' email
Feb. 21, 2015
HARRISBURG, Pa. (AP) — A white county judge nominated for Pennsylvania's highest court apparently forwarded a racially insensitive email showing a black couple talking through glass via a jailhouse phone under the heading, "Merry Christmas from the Johnsons."
Centre County Judge Thomas Kistler told The Philadelphia Inquirer in a story posted Friday (http://bit.ly/1MF1doN) he did not remember sending the email in December 2013 to more than 20 people, including lawyers, the county prosecutor and people who work in the criminal justice system.
Kistler did not deny sending the image, which is readily available online, but told the paper if he did, it would not have been intended to mock black people. He said the message would have been, "Christmas goes on, even for the people we put in jail."
Senate leaders recommended Kistler, a Republican, and Duquesne Law School dean Ken Gormley, a Democrat, to fill two high court vacancies, including one created by the abrupt resignation of Justice Seamus McCaffery over distribution of pornographic emails last year.
Gov. Tom Wolf, a Democrat, nominated the two on Feb. 4, calling them "extremely qualified and distinguished individuals." They both await Senate confirmation.
Wolf spokesman Jeff Sheridan said late Friday the governor did not plan to make an immediate decision on Kistler's nomination status.
"In light of the information that has been received by us today, we are reviewing the situation," Sheridan said, noting Wolf had been in Washington for the day.
Kistler did not return a phone message left Friday at his chambers in Bellefonte. A spokeswoman for Senate Majority Leader Jake Corman, R-Centre, who represents that area, declined comment.
The Inquirer, which obtained a copy of the email, noted its subject line read, "Touching and heartwarming. Merry Christmas to ALL! JK." The image appears to have originated as a photo posted on Facebook that was turned into a fake Christmas card, complete with cartoon images of Santa and reindeer.
The paper said it was unclear if Kistler sent it from his work account, and Kistler told the paper he sometimes used the email's sign-off, "JK," for Judge Kistler.
Kistler told the paper he did not consider the email to be funny, saying he didn't "think it conveys humor at all. I don't find that humorous."
He said he did not think the email should affect his nomination, which would put him on the seven-person court until the end of the year, when voters will elect three new justices.
One of the Legislature's most powerful African-American members, Democratic Sen. Vincent Hughes of Philadelphia, a former chairman of the Legislative Black Caucus, considered the email image troubling and offensive, a spokesman said.
Kistler has served as president judge in Centre County since 2012 and helped create the Centre County Child Access Center, which provides a place for the safe exchange of children in separated or divorced families where domestic violence has occurred.
He has been a judge since 1997 and has a law degree from Penn State Dickinson School of Law.