Court Reformers: Orie Melvin Should Step Down

Jan 12, 2012

A judicial reform group is calling on the Pennsylvania Supreme Court to remove Justice Joan Orie Melvin.

Melvin, the sister of State Sen. Jane Orie (R-Allegheny County), was subpoenaed in December by the grand jury investigating alleged political corruption on the part of Jane Orie and her staff. Joan Orie Melvin has said she will recuse herself from any case involving Allegheny County District Attorney Stephen Zappala, who argued the case against her sister. But court reform advocates are not satisfied with that pledge.

"We don't think it's enough," said Shira Goodman of Pennsylvanians for Modern Courts. "I think she would still be weighing in on very important questions that affect all Pennsylvanians, from family matters to business questions to possibly the redistricting case, and we don't need a cloud. We don't need questions about whether a judge legitimately should be there or not."

If Melvin were to step down, a six-judge panel would be left to decide upcoming appeals to the state legislative redistricting plans. An evenly split bench would result in the redrawn districts being upheld.

Goodman said the investigation sheds light on a flawed judicial selection process that treats judges like politicians. "[It] shows that judges and election politics and election fundraising shouldn't mix," she said. "Our judges should be insulated from that."

Jane Orie faces retrial in February on charges she used her state staff for political work. Court proceedings last year ended in a mistrial after a judge determined that key defense evidence had been forged.