Convicted Justice Joan Orie Melvin could be ordered from office or impeached

Joan Orie Melvin, suspended state Supreme Court justice, leaving the Allegheny County Courthouse.
Joan Orie Melvin, suspended state Supreme Court justice, leaving the Allegheny County Courthouse. (PHILIP G. PAVELY / Pittsburgh Tribune-Review)
Posted: February 23, 2013

Visitors to the Pennsylvania Supreme Court website Thursday night were greeted by a group photo of the high court that included a smiling Justice Joan Orie Melvin.

There was no indication that a Pittsburgh jury had found Melvin guilty of criminal corruption earlier in the day.

Melvin is a still a Supreme Court justice, albeit one suspended without pay.

Her conviction on six of seven counts of corruption related to her 2003 and 2009 campaigns for the Supreme Court sparked renewed calls for replacing judicial elections with merit selection of judges.

More pressing, however, was the question of how long Melvin could remain a member of the highest court in the state.

"If she does not resign, then the House will move ahead with impeachment preparations," said Speaker Sam Smith (R., Jefferson).

Melvin, a Republican from a prominent Western Pennsylvania family, rebuffed earlier calls for her resignation.

"Maybe she sees the light of day and resigns," said a Democratic legislative aide. "People are not expecting that to happen."

If she does not step down, there are several ways she could be removed.

She could be impeached by the state House and then tried and convicted in the Senate. Melvin would have no recourse in that event.

When she is sentenced by Allegheny County Court Judge Lester G. Nahaus, he might order her removed from office.

That's what happened in 1994 to Rolf Larsen, the last Pennsylvania justice to be convicted of a crime while in office.

Larsen appealed the judge's order, however, and the legislature moved forward with impeachment.

Impeachment could embroil Harrisburg for months in an embarrassing spectacle. The Larsen impeachment resolution was introduced in May 1994. The Senate convicted him in October.

Also, a pending case against Melvin in the Court of Judicial Discipline, which was put on hold during the criminal trial, is proceeding.

She has 30 days from her conviction to file legal arguments before the court, which has the authority to remove her.

Melvin could ask for a special tribunal to review any removal order by the court, but it would be limited in scope, said Lynn A. Marks, executive director of Pennsylvanians for Modern Courts.

Marks was a leading advocate for the 1993 constitutional amendment that created the Court of Judicial Discipline, and said Melvin's conviction should spur another constitutional amendment - for merit selection.


Contact Robert Moran at 215-854-5983, bmoran@phillynews.com.

Inquirer staff writers Amy Worden and Angela Couloumbis contributed.

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