While Pennsylvania Supreme Court Justice J. Michael Eakin said he thinks the high court would have the power to appoint an interim justice to fill the spot of suspended Justice Joan Orie Melvin, he does not think the court will do it as a "separation of powers issue."
Justice Eakin, who spoke last week at a meeting of the Philadelphia Bar Association's appellate courts committee, said the court does not want to get into the position of pre-empting Gov. Tom Corbett from appointing a justice with confirmation by the state Senate.
When the Supreme Court appointed Senior Justice Frank J. Montemuro Jr. to temporarily replace Justice Rolf Larsen, questions about the legality of the action surfaced at the time, Justice Eakin said.
He said he does not necessarily agree with the criticism of the legality of the court appointing a temporary justice. "We could do it, I'm pretty confident," he said. "But I don't want to do it as a separation of powers issue."
Justice Eakin also said the Supreme Court is trying to reduce the number of cases that end in tied votes. The court has been making a habit of putting cases that were initially tied 3-3 on the justices' business agenda to see if any of the justices would willing to change their vote or to refine the issues in the case to get another member of the court to join the majority.
When the justices met last week in Philadelphia to discuss their business agenda, the court had five cases that were tied 3-3 preliminarily but three of those were resolved after justices changed their initial position, Justice Eakin said.
Ms. Melvin, who was convicted earlier this year on political corruption charges, is scheduled to be sentenced May 7. It is too late this year to put Ms. Melvin's slot on the ballot if she is officially removed, Justice Eakin said.
Justice Eakin also said the prior Supreme Court precedent that Pennsylvania's unified judicial system requires that trial-court funding be done by state government, not county government, will not be enacted anytime soon in this poor funding climate.legalnews