Pennsylvania’s highest court has denied a bid by one of its own to force the judges sitting
on a western Pennsylvania trial court to recuse themselves from presiding over an upcoming criminal case against the suspended Supreme Court justice.
In a one-paragraph per curiam order issued July 17, the remaining six justices of the Pennsylvania Supreme Court denied a petition by suspended Justice Joan Orie Melvin to have the entire Allegheny County Common Pleas Court bench recuse itself in Orie Melvin’s criminal trial.
Orie Melvin faces nine criminal charges alleging that she illegally used her Superior Court staff – she was formerly an appellate judge – to work on her campaign for a seat on the high court.
Orie Melvin was subsequently elected to the state Supreme Court.
The remaining Supreme Court justices suspended Orie Melvin from her duties back in May after the criminal charges were leveled by the Allegheny County District Attorney’s Office.
In their Tuesday order, the sitting Supreme Court justices denied Orie Melvin’s application for extraordinary and emergency relief pursuant to King’s Bench Power and/or plenary jurisdiction.
Orie Melvin had petitioned the high court for relief after an Allegheny County judge had earlier denied the suspended justice’s request to have an out-of-county judge preside over her preliminary hearing because of a supposed conflict of interest; one of the trial court judges is married to a witness in the case, according to local media reports.
Orie Melvin also argued that recusal was necessary since Allegheny County Common Pleas Court Judge Jeffrey A. Manning had handled the criminal case against Orie Melvin’s sister, former state Sen. Jane Orie, who was recently convicted of similar public corruption crimes and subsequently sent to prison.
The Supreme Court’s denial of Orie Melvin’s recusal request means the suspended justice’s case will go on as scheduled.
A preliminary hearing has been scheduled for July 30 before a magisterial district judge in Allegheny County.
In related news, the Pennsylvania Court of Judicial Discipline, which is currently presiding over a matter to determine whether or not Orie Melvin should continue to receive her court salary while under suspension, has set a date to hear legal arguments in the matter.
The CJD set a hearing date of Aug. 14 in Harrisburg.
While Orie Melvin continues to be suspended with pay, critics contend the pending criminal charges should mean the justice should forgo compensation while she awaits trial.