Judge rejects argument that prosecution of suspended Justice Orie Melvin would violate separation of powers, allows trial to go on

By Jon Campisi | Dec 26, 2012

A judge in western Pennsylvania has shot down an argument by suspended state Supreme

Court Justice Joan Orie Melvin’s legal team, ruling that the jurist can indeed face criminal charges on allegations that she used judicial staff for campaign work.

According to recent media reports, Judge Lester Nauhaus, who is overseeing the justice’s case, late last week rejected arguments by Orie Melvin’s lawyers that the justice’s trial shouldn’t move forward because the judiciary should handle complaints of wrongdoing internally, and not prosecutors.

Orie Melvin’s attorneys had earlier filed a motion seeking to dismiss the charges over their claims that the prosecution of judges for alleged misdoings that occurred within the judiciary would be an unconstitutional violation of the separation of powers.

A recent message to one of Orie Melvin’s attorneys by the Pennsylvania Record seeking to obtain a copy of the defense filing was never returned.

The Associated Press, however, had reported that Orie Melvin’s lawyers wrote in their motion that prosecution in this case is “unprecedented and constitutionally flawed” because the judiciary has rules regulating the political activity of its members and only the judiciary should decide whether its members have violated certain rules.

“These flawed charges, if allowed to proceed, expose the Pennsylvania judiciary to the arbitrary police power of every prosecutor,” the defense filing stated, according to the Associated Press. “The independence of the judiciary will erode and yield to the executive’s self-declared authority to police and prosecute the manner and means by which judges direct their staff and exercise their judicial authority.”

The prosecutor in the case, Allegheny County Deputy District Attorney Lawrence Claus, retorted by saying that the justice is not simply being put on trial for political related activities; she’s being prosecuted for using state resources to promote her own political campaigns, which is a violation of the law, according to news reports.

Orie Melvin, who is currently suspended from her seat on the high court, has been charged with using her then-Superior Court staff to work on her campaign for the high court, to which she was eventually elected.

Superior Court is the lower appellate court beneath the Supreme Court.

All judges in Pennsylvania, including appellate judges, are chosen by the people in partisan elections.

Orie Melvin is scheduled to go on trial in late January.

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