Who might replace Joan Orie Melvin?


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In the wake of Pennsylvania Supreme Court Justice Joan Orie Melvin's political corruption conviction, attention is turning to her potential replacement.

And while an official vacancy has yet to open on the bench, that hasn't stopped the legal community from trying to guess who might be tapped to fill it.

Some names that are being floated as potential candidates have close ties to the Corbett administration -- which isn't surprising, since it would be Republican Gov. Tom Corbett who makes the appointment.

Names being mentioned by legal insiders include William R. Sasso, chairman of Stradley Ronon Stevens & Young's management committee; Michael Krancer, secretary of the state Department of Environmental Protection; and Stephen Aichele, Mr. Corbett's chief of staff.

Mr. Sasso has ties to the governor through Republican power broker Bob Asher, who is a member of Mr. Corbett's re-election committee, sources said.

But while Mr. Sasso's name was the one mentioned most often by sources, Mr. Sasso himself said in an emailed statement: "While several people whose opinion I respect have talked to me about it, I feel there are many others who would provide more of a benefit to the court."

Mr. Aichele could not be reached, and a DEP spokesman said Monday the agency could not comment. Mr. Krancer was unavailable.

Meanwhile, it appears that the Supreme Court itself is too divided to make an interim appointment while Justice Melvin is still suspended -- but before a vacancy is created.

A "vacancy" can only be created if Justice Melvin resigns; if the trial judge in her criminal case orders her removed from office because of a finding that she committed crimes of infamy; if the Court of Judicial Discipline orders her removal from office; or if the House of Representatives first impeaches her and then the Senate votes to remove her from office.

Once an official vacancy is created, an interim appointee would likely serve until January 2016. The appointment would be made by Mr. Corbett, with the state Senate having the power to affirm or deny confirmation.

A Department of State spokesman said a vacancy for Justice Melvin's seat only would likely occur within 10 months of the next judicial election. In that case, the position can only be filled by a gubernatorial appointment that must be confirmed by two-thirds of the Senate, he said.

A number of sources said Mr. Corbett is likely to give the spot to someone who is allied with the administration, but who is not a politically polarizing figure.

Senate Republicans do not control two-thirds of their chamber, so Senate Democrats would likely push to ensure that an interim nominee is one that they could support.

State Sen. Daylin Leach, D-Montgomery, ranking Democrat on the Senate Judiciary Committee, said the Senate Democrats are going to have a say in determining who will be the interim justice.

"The necessity of having Democratic support would preclude the appointment or confirmation of anyone who is perceived as being an ideologue or [having] any history of being a partisan," Mr. Leach said.

The appointment of a moderate would be important because there are contentious issues before the court related to fracking, elections and the privatization of the state lottery, Mr. Leach said.

While the court appears divided on the issue, it could still appoint a temporary seventh justice until the vacancy becomes official if the justices can find a way around the court's 3-3 party affiliation deadlock.

Lynn Marks, of Pennsylvanians for Modern Courts, said in an email that under the state constitution and court rule, the Supreme Court has the authority to designate a commissioned judge or certified senior judge to sit temporarily as an interim justice.

legalnews

Senior staff writer Gina Passarella also contributed to this report. To read more articles like this, visit www.thelegalintelligencer.com. First Published March 4, 2013 5:00 AM


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