HARRISBURG, Pa. (Legal Newsline) - Court reform organization Pennsylvanians for Modern Courts is calling for state Supreme Court Justice Joan Orie Melvin to temporarily step down in light of a report that she is the target of a Allegeheny 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 would not comment on the grand jury probe. Orie's attorney also did not comment.
According to the Pittsburgh Tribune-Review, this grand jury is the same one that investigated her two sisters for using state employees for political work. Those sisters, State Senator Jane Orie and Janine Orie, were indicted and brought to trial. A mistrial declared and a new one is scheduled in February.
PMC Executive Director Lynn A. Marks explained, "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."
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.
The reform group acknowledges that suspending a sitting Supreme Court justice before charges of misconduct or criminal charges have been filed is a serious action that will deprive the Court of its full complement of justices.
However, it must act to protect the integrity of the Court and to safeguard the public trust, the group argues.