Monday, May 21, 2012

In Pa, a supreme court justice is hit with felony charges

Pa. Justice Joan Orie Melvin, center, makes a statement to the media on Friday
after pleading not guilty to felony charges relating to the use of  court staffers
for political campaign work. Photo: Heidi Murrin | Pittsburgh Tribune-Review

Joan Orie Melvin is proving to be an argument in favor of the appointment (as in New Jersey), rather than the election, of state supreme court justices. 

On Friday, in Pittsburgh, Melvin pleaded not guilty to nine criminal charges filed by Allegheny County District Attorney Stephen A. Zappala Jr., including four felonies, based on a 75-page grand jury presentment.

Melvin, 56, is charged with using her former Superior Court legal staff to campaign on her behalf in 2003, when she unsuccessfully ran for the state's highest court and in 2009 when she won a Supreme Court seat.

Prosecutors say it was a family affair. Melvin's two sisters earlier were charged with similar offenses.

Former state Sen. Jane Orie, 50, a Republican from McCandless, was convicted by a jury in March of misusing her state staff for campaign work and knowingly introducing forged documents as evidence during a trial. She resigned her Senate seat today and is scheduled for sentencing on June 4.

Janine Orie, 57, who worked on Melvin's court staff, is scheduled for trial in August on similar charges. Prosecutors said they might seek to join her case with Melvin's.

Yesterday, a Philadelphia Inquirer editorial concluded:
Similar to the Bonusgate scandal, which has led to the jailing of a number of former state lawmakers and aides, the allegations against Melvin and her sisters portray politicians as all too willing to break the rules to get elected.

That’s always a risk in politics, which is why Pennsylvania should end partisan judicial elections that require candidates to amass campaign war chests. The Melvin case has become Exhibit No. 1 on the need to enact the judicial merit-selection legislation pending in Harrisburg.
Convicted Pa. Sen. Orie submits resignation
State Supreme Court Justice Joan Orie Melvin hit with four felonies 

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