Justice Orie Melvin should not get salary, judicial panel rules
August 31, 2012 8:00 AM
Pa. Supreme Court Justice Joan Orie Melvin
By Paula Reed Ward Pittsburgh Post-Gazette
The Court of Judicial Discipline, citing conduct "so egregious," ruled Thursday that suspended state Supreme Court Justice Joan Orie Melvin should not receive pay as she awaits the outcome of criminal charges against her.
"[W]e see this respondent as so single-mindedly occupied with achieving personal aggrandizement that she pressured, intimidated and bullied her clerks and secretaries into performing work on her political campaigns," wrote President Judge Robert E.J. Curran in a 5-1 opinion.
He characterized that bullying as "relentless."
Justice Orie Melvin was removed from the bench the day criminal charges were filed against her in May, alleging that she used her judicial staff to campaign in both 2003 and 2009 for a spot on the state's high court. At the time, the suspension allowed her to continue to receive her $195,309 annual salary.
Attorneys for the state Judicial Conduct Board argued that the seriousness of the felony charges against Justice Orie Melvin was enough to warrant suspension without pay.
Her attorney argued that precedent showed that it was rare for suspension to occur without pay, and that the criminal charges against the justice are weak.
But Judge Curran disagreed, instead writing that testimony from the preliminary hearing revealed a record "brimming" with evidence that Justice Orie Melvin knew her staff was involved in campaign work.
"We cannot leave this subject without mentioning that assertions that [Orie Melvin] did not know what her sisters were saying and doing and, for that matter, what her staff and her sister's staff were doing, test the patience of the court."
Justice Orie Melvin's sister, Janine Orie, who worked in her judicial office, is awaiting trial with her. Another sister, former state Sen. Jane Orie, was sentenced to prison in June after being convicted of similar counts.
Judge Curran wrote that the suspension without pay is the only way rebuild public trust in the courts.
Dan Brier, one of the lawyers representing Justice Melvin, said: "The decision exposes the hazards and unfairness involved when a court bases its entire decision upon witnesses who it neither heard nor saw. The charges against Justice Orie Melvin lack legal merit and are factually contrived. Justice Orie Melvin has faith that the legal deficiencies and the factual contrivances will be exposed in court and result in her full acquittal."