A hearing in Harrisburg on Tuesday before a panel of Pennsylvania’s Court of Judicial
Discipline having to do with the issue of suspended state Supreme Court Justice Joan Orie Melvin’s pay during her hiatus from the bench ended somewhat unresolved, according to court records and local media reports.
Orie Melvin was charged in western Pennsylvania last month with nine criminal counts alleging she used legislative staff and court employees to do work on her campaign for a seat on the high court.
Less than a week after the criminal charges were announced, the Court of Judicial Discipline officially suspended Orie Melvin with pay based on recommendations from the state’s Judicial Conduct Board.
Orie Melvin’s fellow Supreme Court justices also moved to suspend her from her duties.
Tuesday’s hearing was scheduled to allow the various parties involved to weigh in on the issue of whether or not Orie Melvin should remain suspended with pay, or await her criminal trial without pay.
According to a Court of Judicial Discipline order issued June 12, the same day as the hearing, the pay issue will remain unresolved pending a second hearing that has been scheduled for later this month.
The order, which was not yet posted to the CJD’s website, but was provided to the Pennsylvania Record by Court Administrator Wanda W. Sweigart, states that the parties involved will have a chance to present witnesses during a June 29 hearing whose testimony can “reasonably be expected to aid the Court in making a determination of the issue presently before it.”
The order further states that during this Tuesday’s hearing, the CJD admitted two out of five documents into evidence that were submitted by the Judicial Conduct Board.
Orie Melvin had objected to the admissibility of all five documents, the CJD order states.
The two exhibits that were accepted were copies of the grand jury presentment and police criminal complaint against Orie Melvin.
Those rejected were copies of the grand jury presentment and police criminal complaint against Orie Melvin’s sister, Janine Orie, and a transcript of the preliminary hearing in the state’s case against another sister, Jane Orie.
Jane Orie, a former senator from western Pennsylvania, was convicted in March of five felonies and nine misdemeanor counts relating to a variety of similar white-collar crimes.
She was sentenced earlier this month to 2-1/2 to 10 years in state prison.
Janine Orie, an aide to Orie Melvin, is also facing charges that she directed state staffers to perform political work on the taxpayers’ dime.
According to a report in the Legal Intelligencer, the Judicial Conduct Board’s chief counsel, Francis J. Puskas, II, said at Tuesday’s hearing that the JCB did not wish to present live testimony and remains steadfast in its position that Orie Melvin’s paid suspension should stand.
The CJD panel, however, said the parties’ agreement as to this matter “overlooks or ignores” the main function of the CJD, which is to protect the integrity of the state’s judicial system, according to the Legal Intelligencer article.
“We have no intention of passing off our constitutional responsibility to two lawyers who happen to represent the Judicial Conduct Board and [Orie Melvin],” CJD President Judge Robert E.J. Curran said at the hearing, according to the newspaper’s account.
The CJD’s order also gave the Judicial Conduct Board until June 22 to file its response to Orie Melvin’s per curiam order for a hearing on the suspension and pay issues, which, the order states, is a motion requesting that the CJD decline to take further action and allow the May 22 suspension with pay to remain in effect until one or the other of the parties seek its vacation.
In a separate order, the CJD denied a motion by Orie Melvin to recuse one of the panel’s members, Charles A. Clement, Jr.
Clement is a magisterial district judge serving on the CJD.
It was not clear from the judicial order why Clement’s recusal was being sought.
In yet a third order, Curran, the CJD’s president judge, denied a motion by Orie Melvin for a hearing on her motion for Clement’s recusal.