Start writing: Superior Court showed good sense in Joan Orie Melvin case


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A three-judge panel of the Pennsylvania Superior Court last week issued a ruling in the case of former state Supreme Court Justice Joan Orie Melvin that should be taken as the sensible last word.

In an opinion written by Judge Christine Donohue and joined by Judges John Musmanno and Paula Ott, the court dismissed the fantasies that Orie Melvin has persisted in since being found guilty last year of six charges, including theft of services, conspiracy and misapplication of entrusted property.

For what amounted to ripping off the taxpayers, Orie Melvin must serve three years of house arrest, work in a soup kitchen and pay a $55,000 fine, as Common Pleas Judge Lester G. Nauhaus ordered.

But the panel wisely vacated the absurd part of Judge Nauhaus’ sentence — that she write notes of apology to every jurist in the state on a photo of herself taken on the day of sentencing — at a time when she was no longer in police custody and handcuffs had to be put on her to make the point.

The court held that the apologies must still be written, without the photo, because they serve a rehabilitative purpose by requiring her to admit wrongdoing. But the photo gimmick was an obvious exercise in shame, something that reduced serious business to the realm of the juvenile. 

As Judge Donohue correctly noted, “The trial court’s use of the handcuffs as a prop is emblematic of the intent to humiliate Orie Melvin in the eyes of her former judicial colleagues.”

The real shame was always in becoming a convicted Supreme Court justice. Judge Nauhaus should have sentenced her to prison outright and the public might have been spared some of this nonsense.

It’s about time that Orie Melvin took responsibility for her actions and started writing her letters of apology. She can still appeal to the state Supreme Court, where former colleagues would be put in an invidious position, but Superior Court’s sensible ruling should be the end of it.

Meet the Editorial Board.


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