Editorial: Pa. SC justice needs to remove herself amid investigation

Jessica M. Karmasek Jan. 19, 2012, 11:34am

Orie Melvin

PHILADELPHIA (Legal Newsline) - Pennsylvania Supreme Court Justice Joan Orie Melvin needs to step aside, one Philadelphia newspaper says.

The Philadelphia Inquirer, in an editorial Wednesday, says it would be "in the best interests of the state's judiciary" if Orie Melvin removed herself from the court, or at least until her name is cleared.

The justice is reportedly the target of an Allegheny County grand jury investigation.

The investigation is focused on the improper use of judicial and legislative staff for her election campaigns.

The Allegheny County District Attorney's Office has refused to comment on the grand jury probe. Orie Melvin's attorney also has refused to comment.

According to the Pittsburgh Tribune-Review, the grand jury is the same one that investigated her two sisters for using state employees for political work.

Those sisters, state Sen. Jane Orie and Janine Orie, were indicted and brought to trial. A mistrial was declared and a new one is scheduled in February.

"The allegations alone ought to be enough to shake the public's faith in the state's system of electing its most powerful judges," the Inquirer wrote.

"No matter what the outcome of the inquiry into the Orie sisters, the state judiciary would not have to weather such controversy if its top judges were chosen through a merit-based system of appointment, with voters' concurrence through nonpartisan retention elections."

Last week, court reform organization Pennsylvanians for Modern Courts also called for Orie Melvin to temporarily step down.

"All citizens, including judges are presumed innocent until proven guilty, but judges and especially Supreme Court justices should not be permitted to judge others while under the cloud of such a serious investigation," PMC Executive Director Lynn A. Marks said.

If Orie Melvin does not voluntarily step down, PMC wants the Supreme Court to temporarily suspend her. The Court has suspended judges facing misconduct charges, criminal investigations, or even allegations of wrongdoing.

"Judges must be held to a higher standard because of the great power entrusted to them by the public and because our courts are only effective when the people have confidence in them," Marks said.

From Legal Newsline: Reach Jessica Karmasek by email at jessica@legalnewsline.com.

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