Lesson with merit: Orie Melvin case has a bigger point for lawmakers
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A greater lesson can be learned from the recent conviction of suspended Pennsylvania Supreme Court Justice Joan Orie Melvin on six of seven counts of public corruption. While her disgrace is the consequence of her own actions, it is also true that scandal would not have happened if this commonwealth did not choose to elect its judges.
As it stands, the system itself -- defended as a matter of giving the people their say -- comes complete with temptations and conflicts of interest that can corrupt both judges and the public interest.
There is a better way -- the merit selection of judges in a system free of money-soaked politics. Pennsylvanians for Modern Courts, a group that supports merit selection, pointed out the obvious in a statement soon after Justice Melvin was convicted,
Board member and retired Pennsylvania Superior Court Judge Phyllis W. Beck said: "When a Supreme Court justice is convicted of misusing court resources for her judicial campaigns, something is fundamentally wrong with the system. After all, this could only happen in a system where we elect our judges."
Requiring judges to raise money to run in contested partisan elections is a disgrace, she said. "Why? Because most of the money comes from lawyers and potential litigants who might appear before them," she said.
Senate Bill 298, which proposes constitutional amendments, can fix this absurdity. It proposes a hybrid system in which common pleas judges would still be voted on by the public but appellate court judges would be nominated by the governor from a list provided by an independent nominating commission (the senate would have a chance to confirm the pick and later the public would have the final say in a retention election).
The Legislature needs to learn from the Orie Melvin case and act.
First Published February 26, 2013 12:00 am