Briefs ordered on Orie Melvin removal

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The judge who will sentence suspended Pennsylvania Supreme Court Justice Joan Orie Melvin ordered the attorneys in the case Wednesday to address her removal from the court in briefs due next month.

Allegheny County Common Pleas Judge Lester G. Nauhaus cites two specific sections of the state Constitution that must be addressed in the sentencing briefs due April 15. They include "Suspension, Removal, Discipline and Other Sanctions" under Article V, which refers to the judiciary, and "Removal of Civil Officers" under Article VI, referring to public officers.

Under the first section, the Constitution notes: "A justice, judge or justice of the peace convicted of misbehavior in office by a court ... shall forfeit automatically his judicial office and thereafter be ineligible for judicial office."

Under the section referring to public officers, it reads: "All civil officers shall hold their offices on the condition that they behave themselves well while in office, and shall be removed on conviction of misbehavior in office or of any infamous crime."

Justice Orie Melvin and her sister Janine Orie were convicted in February of several counts related to using judicial staff -- as well as the legislative staff of another sister, former state Sen. Jane Orie -- to campaign in 2003 and 2009 for the state Supreme Court.

The justice was found guilty of six counts, including three felonies. They include theft of services, criminal conspiracy and misapplication of government funds. She voluntarily stepped away from her position the day charges were filed against her in May, but hours later was formally suspended by the court.

It now appears that her removal is inevitable.

Duquesne University law professor Bruce Ledewitz said he saw no reason for Judge Nauhaus to ask the attorneys to address removal.

"It certainly is automatic under the circumstances of this case," he said.

The professor said it could just be an effort by the judge to give each side the opportunity to be fully heard on the issue.

He, like other legal observers, has said it is possible, if not likely, Justice Orie Melvin will be removed from her position on the high court when she is sentenced by Judge Nauhaus on May 7.

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Paula Reed Ward: pward@post-gazette.com or 412-263-2620.


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