Joan Orie Melvin, the disgraced Pennsylvania Supreme Court Justice recently convicted
on corruption charges, has resigned her seat on the high court.
The announcement, made by the Administrative Office of Pennsylvania Courts, comes after Orie Melvin was convicted by an Allegheny County jury in late February of using her then-Superior Court staff to work on her campaign for the Supreme Court.
The justice was convicted on several felony counts, including theft of services, conspiracy and the misappropriation of state property.
Her resignation will be effective May 1. She remains suspended from the high court without pay.
In her letter of resignation to Gov. Tom Corbett, which was posted to the website of the Pittsburgh Tribune Review, Orie Melvin wrote that “it is with deep regret and a broken heart” that she tenders her resignation.
“It has been my honor and privilege to serve the people of this Commonwealth for the past 28 years, and I am deeply saddened that I am not able to fulfill my commission,” Orie Melvin wrote. “My faith has endured and is strengthened, and I thank God for the great gift of serving in the judiciary.”
Orie Melvin went on to write that she intends to appeal her verdict.
She also wrote that she understands that in the meantime, “the citizens of Pennsylvania deserve a fully-staffed Supreme Court.”
In a statement, Corbett said that he believes Orie Melvin’s decision to resign was the right one.
“This will save taxpayers the time and expense of impeachment proceedings in the House and Senate, and allow legislators to focus on other important issues,” the governor stated.
Under the commonwealth’s constitution, Corbett has 90 days from May 1 by which to appoint a nominee to succeed Orie Melvin on the high court.
The candidate, who must be confirmed by two-thirds of the state Senate, would serve until Jan. 5, 2016.
A new justice would be elected that prior November.
Corbett said he would submit a name to the Senate “as soon as practical.”
Two state lawmakers had already signaled a move toward impeaching Orie Melvin if she didn’t resign.
State Rep. Glen Grell, a Republican from Cumberland County, and Philadelphia Democratic State Rep. John Sabatina, recently announced they would be unveiling an impeachment resolution.
In a statement released by his office, Grell, a House Judiciary Committee member who chairs the Subcommittee on Courts, said that while the circumstances surrounding Orie Melvin’s corruption conviction are “unfortunate” and “clearly painful to her family,” he had always hoped that the justice would consider the best interests of the commonwealth and the high court in coming to the “painful decision” to resign.
“It would appear that this resignation will obviate the need for an impeachment proceeding and I am pleased that the resignation will clear the way for the governor to act quickly to bring the Supreme Court back to its full complement,” Grell stated.
Others also stated that they felt Orie Melvin made the right move in resigning, including the husband-wife team of Thomas G. Wilkson, Jr., who serves as the president of the Pennsylvania Bar Association, and Kathleen D. Wilkinson, the chancellor of the Philadelphia Bar Association.
"Restoring the public's confidence in the integrity of our highest state court is paramount,” Thomas Wilkinson stated. “Justice Orie Melvin ultimately made the wise and correct decision to resign.”
Thomas Wilkinson also urged the governor and the Senate to move quickly to fill the soon-to-be vacant seat, “because it is important to lawyers and litigants that the Supreme Court return to its full complement of seven Justices when hearing cases as soon as possible.
“As lawyers, we have a responsibility to do all we possibly can to help preserve the integrity of the justice system and maintain public confidence in our judiciary,” Thomas Wilkinson continued. “The many distinguished, hardworking and honorable judges in Pennsylvania deserve nothing less. An independent and impartial judiciary is a cornerstone of our system of justice, and public confidence in the judiciary is undermined when judges engage in criminal or other serious misconduct such as the crimes for which Justice Orie Melvin was charged and convicted."
Kathleen Wilkinson similarly urged Corbett and the state Senate to act swiftly on filling the void left by Orie Melvin’s departure, saying that the high court needs to be restored to its full complement of seven justices “to ensure unfettered access to justice for the citizens of Pennsylvania.”