Justice Joan Orie Melvin’s colleagues on the Supreme Court of Pennsylvania have denied
a bid by the suspended jurist to have the high court intervene in a public corruption case launched by the Allegheny County District Attorney’s Office that alleges the justice illegally used staff for campaign purposes.
In a one-paragraph per curiam order issued Jan. 10, the high court refused to exercise its King’s Bench powers to get involved in the corruption charges against Orie Melvin, who remains suspended pending trial.
Justice Max Baer was the only one of the six remaining justices who did not participate in the decision, although there was no explanation given for his abstention.
The Pittsburgh Post-Gazette had recently reported that Orie Melvin’s attorneys filed the petition for what is known as “King’s Bench” review, which is when the high court intervenes in an ongoing criminal case because of special circumstances.
The justice’s lawyers had earlier argued that Allegheny County District Attorney Stephen Zappala’s criminal charges against Orie Melvin violate the separation of powers between the branches of government.
Orie Melvin is accused of using her then-Superior Court staff to work on her campaign for a seat on the high court, to which she was eventually elected.
Allegheny County Common Pleas Court Judge Lester Nauhaus, who is overseeing the criminal case, last month rejected Orie Melvin’s attorneys’ arguments about the separation of powers issue.
Nevertheless, the lawyers filed their King’s Bench review petition with the Supreme Court with the hopes that the justices would get involved.
“Immediate action by this court is necessary to enforce the separation of powers and compel the dismissal of the constitutionally impermissible charges,” Orie Melvin’s attorneys wrote in their 16-page filing, according to the report in the Post-Gazette. “There is no doubt that the District Attorney’s misuse of the police power is an issue of immediate public importance justifying exercise of this court’s extraordinary jurisdiction.”
In her criminal case, Orie Melvin is facing charges including theft of services, misapplication of entrusted property, official oppression and conspiracy to tamper with evidence.
She is expected to go on trial in Allegheny County later this month.