Pennsylvania Supreme Court Suspends Justice Orie Melvin in Wake of Pending Charges


Pennsylvania Supreme Court Justice Joan Orie Melvin has been charged on May 18, 2012 in Allegheny County with nine criminal counts alleging that she used her office staff to perform campaign work, according to a statement by District Attorney Stephen A. Zappala Jr.’s office.

The charges, which include some felony counts, represent the largest crisis for the state court since former Justice Rolf Larsen was impeached in 1994.  The state Supreme Court suspended Judge Joan Orie Melvin just a couple of minutes before noon on May 18, 2012.

The court said in its order that “in view of the compelling and immediate need to protect and preserve the integrity of the Unified Judicial System and the administration of justice of 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.”

 In a separate order, the court said that the Administrative Office of Pennsylvania Courts must secure the records, files and equipment that are the court’s property at Judge Joan Orie Melvin’s chambers in Pittsburgh.

Before the action of her six fellow justices, Judge Joan Orie Melvin, through her attorney writing a letter to Chief Justice Ronald D. Castille, said she would voluntarily recuse herself from her duties, but not resign.

“In order to avoid the appearance of impropriety and in accordance with precedent, Justice Orie Melvin is voluntarily recusing herself from all judicial duties pending resolution of the criminal charges,” according to the letter written by Orie Melvin’s attorney, William I. Arbuckle III of State College, Pa. “She is not resigning from the court. The justice denies any criminal wrongdoing and will vigorously defend these politically motivated criminal charges.”

The charges against Judge Joan Orie Melvin include 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, according to the District Attorney’s Office.

The office said Judge Joan Orie Melvin is expected to surrender herself later today. Orie Melvin’s attorneys weren’t immediately available for comment.

The charges against Judge Joan Orie Melvin follow the charges and trial of her sisters, state Senator Jane Orie and staffer Janine Orie, for using Jane Orie’s senate office to do campaign work. Jane Orie in March was found guilty of 14 of the 24 corruption charges she faced and is awaiting sentencing in June. Janine Orie’s trial is still pending. An initial trial in which both sisters were being tried together resulted in a mistrial when the trial judge ruled the defense falsified signatures on certain documents.

The grand jury presentments against Judge Joan Orie Orie Melvin’s sisters and testimony at Jane Orie’s trial alleged state workers’ time was spent on Judge Joan Orie Melvin’s campaigns for Supreme Court in both 2003 and 2009 while she was a Superior Court judge. In a Dec. 16, 2011, indictment against Janine Orie, prosecutors alleged that, when Orie Melvin was a candidate for the high court, she used her state Superior Court staff for campaign work while they were supposed to be carrying out court-related duties.

William Hangley of Hangley Aronchick Segal Pudlin & Schiller represents attorneys and law firms in professional responsibility cases. He said it would be “awfully difficult for a judge to function as a judge after being charged.”

“I would think that whether the rules call for it or not, whether the chief insists upon it or not, I would think that during the pendency of an investigation, the judge would probably not want to sit” on the bench, Hangley said.

Duquesne University School of Law professor Bruce Ledewitz has been calling for Judge Joan Orie Melvin to resign from the bench since December and reiterated the point in an interview with The Legal on Friday.

If the court suspends Orie Melvin, he said, it will become a six-justice bench, split 3-3 along party lines, a scenario Ledewitz called “the worst of all worlds.”

Her resignation, however, would clear the way for a replacement to be appointed, he said.

Ledewitz said Judge Joan Orie Melvin should resign and have her day in court. If acquitted, he said, she could run in the special election to regain her spot on the bench.

“Let her run as the victorious victim of a political vendetta,” he said.

Click Here to View the Grand Jury Presentment


Reader Comments

Larry Hohol

May 18, 2012 02:22 PM

In order to protect the integrity of the Court!!!! What a pitiful comment. How about each and every Supreme Court Justice sign a sworn affidavit stating they have never used their staff for anything other than the business of the court and also a statement that they have never broken a law or decided a case on anything other than the facts and the law. HAHAHAHAHAHAHAHAHAHAHAHA!!! Does anyone see a conflict of interest here with the prosecuting DA being the son of former Chief Justice Zapalla???? It is public knowledge that Justice Orie has publicly criticized Papa Zapalla for his activity in the gaming industry. Who investigates the investigators?

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