HARRISBURG, Pa. (Legal Newsline) - Pennsylvania's Court of Judicial Discipline ruled Thursday that suspended state Supreme Court Justice Joan Orie Melvin should not be paid while awaiting trial for criminal charges.
"In this case, what drives our decision is the nature and quality of Respondent's conduct," President Judge Emeritus Robert E.J. Curran wrote in the CJD's 5-1 opinion.
"In examining that conduct we see this Respondent as so single-mindedly occupied with achieving personal aggrandizement that she pressured, intimidated and bullied her clerks and secretaries into performing work on her political campaigns in violation of a pledge each had made as a condition of their employment pursuant to an order of the Supreme Court of Pennsylvania."
Curran, in the 44-page ruling, described Melvin's intimidation and bullying as "relentless," noting that it continued over long periods of time.
The CJD, established in 1993, has jurisdiction over all judicial officers in Pennsylvania, and must hear and decide formal charges that are filed against a judicial officer.
Judicial officers include all magisterial district judges; judges of the courts of common pleas, the commonwealth court and the superior court; and justices of the state Supreme Court.
The CJD has the authority to impose sanctions, ranging from a reprimand to removal from office, if the formal charges are sustained.
In May, Melvin was suspended by the state's high court in the wake of charges that she allegedly used her office staff to perform campaign work.
The Court said it made its decision after receiving notification from the Allegheny County District Attorney's Office.
District Attorney Stephen A. Zappala Jr. charged Melvin with nine criminal counts, including three counts of theft of services, two counts of criminal conspiracy to commit tampering with or fabricating physical evidence, two counts of official oppression, and one count each of criminal conspiracy to commit theft of services and misapplication of entrusted property of government.
"In view of the compelling and immediate need to protect and preserve the integrity of the Unified Judicial System and the administration of justice for the citizens of this Commonwealth, Madame Justice Orie Melvin is hereby relieved of any and all judicial and administrative responsibilities as a justice and is not to take any further administrative or judicial action whatsoever in any case or proceeding now or hereinafter pending in this Court until further order of this Court," the state Supreme Court wrote in its one-page order.
At the time of her suspension, Melvin was allowed to keep receiving her nearly $200,000 annual salary.
However, attorneys for the state Judicial Conduct Board, pointing to the seriousness of the charges against her, argued that suspension without pay was warranted.
Melvin's attorney argued it was uncalled for and called the charges against the justice "weak."
From Legal Newsline: Reach Jessica Karmasek by email at firstname.lastname@example.org.