Melvin Quits Pa. Supreme Court as of May 1

Mar 25, 2013

A Pennsylvania Supreme Court justice who was convicted last month of using taxpayer-paid staff for political campaigns told the governor Monday she is resigning from the bench as of May 1, about a week before she will learn her sentence.

The letter from Justice Joan Orie Melvin to Gov. Tom Corbett said she made the decision "with deep regret and a broken heart."

"It is my fervent hope that my service over the past three decades will not be tainted by the circumstances surrounding my departure," wrote Melvin, who then listed accomplishments, including 8,000 decisions over 15 years and "respect for the taxpayers" shown by declining a pay raise and "consistently maintaining low office expenses."

Melvin said in the letter she plans to appeal the jury's verdict, which found her guilty of using government employees to work on her 2003 and 2009 campaigns for the high court. Her sentencing is May 7.

Melvin has been suspended without pay from the court since August. Her lawyers released the letter but did not respond to a message seeking a phone interview.

Melvin's sister and aide, Janine Orie, also was convicted of misusing state-paid staffers to do campaign work. They were both found guilty of theft of services, conspiracy and misappropriation of state property. Melvin was acquitted of official oppression.

A third sister, former state Sen. Jane Orie, R-Allegheny, is serving 2 1/2 to 10 years in prison after a separate conviction on similar charges related to her own political campaigns.

The staunchly Republican, conservative Catholic sisters from Pittsburgh's North Hills suburbs have argued the charges were overblown or outright lies whipped up by Allegheny County District Attorney Stephen Zappala Jr., a Democrat, allegedly because the Ories have opposed the expansion of legalized gambling, an industry in which Zappala's relatives had an interest.

Zappala said the investigation began simply because an intern for then-Sen. Orie complained in October 2009 about political campaign work the legislative staff was being made to do for Melvin, just days before she won a seat on the state's highest court. The former senator was ultimately acquitted of charges she used her staff on Melvin's behalf but was convicted of using the staff for her own campaigns.

Jury foreman Matt Mabon told The Associated Press after convicting Melvin last month that the panel largely put aside Jane Orie's alleged role, and decided the counts against Janine Orie first because "all the evidence pointed to Janine Orie. There was a lot more emails of Janine Orie directing people what to do." The evidence that Melvin used her Superior Court staff politically, though strong, was more circumstantial, he said.

Melvin's widely anticipated resignation clears the way for Corbett — like Melvin, a Republican — to nominate someone to take her place on the Supreme Court. Her departure will leave the court with a 3-3 partisan divide with one vacancy.

"The citizens of Pennsylvania deserve a fully-staffed Supreme Court," she wrote.

Corbett's office offered no immediate comment on Melvin's letter.

Once Corbett announces his choice, the nominee's statement of financial interests will be posted online, and the Senate Judiciary Committee will hold a public hearing. If it passes out of that committee as well as the Rules & Executive Nominations Committee, confirmation will require a two-thirds vote on the floor.

The interim justice would serve until voters elect someone to serve a 10-year term.

Copyright 2013 The Associated Press.