The Pennsylvania Court of Judicial Discipline has granted a request by the Judicial
Conduct Board to suspend state Supreme Court Justice Joan Orie Melvin without pay pending her criminal trial on corruption charges.
Orie Melvin, who stands 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, is currently serving out an interim suspension, but she has been receiving her state paycheck.
The Aug. 30 order by the Court of Judicial Discipline, however, means the suspended justice will not receive compensation, although her medical benefits will remain in effect.
In a 45-page opinion penned by Judge Robert E.J. Curran, the CJD ruled that Orie Melvin should not continue to receive her pay because she is facing multiple felony counts.
The ruling states that the “totality of the circumstances” of the case requires the CJD to take such action against Orie Melvin.
“… In this case, what drives our decision is the nature and quality of Respondent’s conduct,” the ruling states. “In examining that conduct we 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 in violation of a pledge each had made as a condition of their employment pursuant to an Order of the Supreme Court of Pennsylvania.”
Curran wrote that Orie Melvin “persisted” with this treatment of her staff into 2009, around the same time the so-called “Bonusgate” public corruption probe launched by then-Attorney General Tom Corbett was well under way and public officials were being convicted and going to prison for theft of services, which is exactly what Orie Melvin is being charged with.
“These were very public events and when viewed with that in mind, Respondent’s continued disregard for the law can modestly be described as spectacular,” the ruling states. “In these circumstances only an order of interim suspension which removes this Respondent from the public payroll has any prospect of ameliorating the harm to the public’s confidence in the judicial system which has been caused by Respondent’s conduct which has led to the pending charges against her.”
Aside from Curran, the other jurists who heard the case were Judges John W. Morris, Charles A. Clement, Jr., Bernard L. McGinley, John R. Cellucci and Timothy F. McCune.
McGinley dissented, although no dissenting opinion appeared to be filed.
Orie Melvin was suspended from her duties on the Supreme Court this past spring, shortly after the Allegheny County District Attorney’s Office filed nine criminal counts against her.
Two of the charges were eventually dropped by a magisterial district judge during the preliminary hearing stage.
Orie Melvin was initially suspended with pay and a hearing was held earlier this summer to address the compensation issue, which was the basis for this most recent CJD decision.