There’s no question that the scandal-tainted departure of former Pennsylvania Supreme
Court Justice Joan Orie Melvin left a black eye on the state judiciary.
But it appears there might be a light at the end of the tunnel with the recent confirmation of Correale Stevens to fill the seat left vacant by Orie Melvin’s resignation, which came following the former justice’s conviction of using court staffers to work on campaign issues.
Stevens, most recently the president judge of Pennsylvania Superior Court, one of the commonwealth’s two intermediate appellate bodies, is viewed as a court reformer by some in local legal circles.
The jurist, who has served in the state legislature, as a district attorney, and as a city solicitor, will soon be sworn in as the seventh member of the state Supreme Court, the Republican’s entrance returning the bench to a 4-3 GOP majority.
Gov. Tom Corbett, a fellow Republican, recently appointed Stevens to the highest court in the commonwealth. The judge was subsequently confirmed to the high court in unanimous votes by both the Senate Judiciary Committee and the full Senate.
And while it remains to be seen how Stevens will vote after he dons his black robes, one thing appears certain – attorneys, judges, politicians and court reformers alike seem to have some level of respect for the 66-year-old Luzerne County native.
“Throughout the legal community, Judge Stevens is known for his devotion to improving the quality of justice,” Pennsylvania Bar Association President Forest N. Myers said in a statement. “During his more than two decades as a jurist, he has demonstrated a broad knowledge of the law. He has built an exceptional record of professional involvement and has been actively engaged in the organized bar, including memberships in the PBA’s Bar/Press Committee and the Appellate Advocacy Committee.”
In his statement, Myers noted that while reviewing Stevens’ 2007 retention bid for his seat on the Superior Court, the bar association’s Judicial Evaluation Committee pointed out the fact that Stevens is “held in high esteem throughout the legal community and is known for consistently being thoroughly prepared, polite, courteous and fair.”
The panel went on to state that Stevens’ legal opinions are often “well reasoned” and “clearly written,” and that the judge has always demonstrated a strong knowledge of the law.
“Through his service, he has shown an unquestionable devotion to enhancing the quality of justice,” the committee wrote back in 2007. “Because of Judge Stevens’ work ethic, respect of his peers and devotion to the quality of justice, the Commission recommends his retention as a judge of the Pennsylvania Superior Court.”
And to show that Stevens’ confirmation has been embraced across party lines, Democratic State Sen. John Yudichak, who represents part of Stevens’ home county of Luzerne, released a statement on the day of the judge’s Senate confirmation calling Stevens quite possibly the most “qualified jurist in recent memory to be confirmed to serve on the Pennsylvania Supreme Court.
“Throughout his impressive career as a public official, Judge Stevens has shown an unmatched commitment to the fair and impartial administration of justice – a commitment that will only strengthen our state Supreme Court.”
If it’s one thing the Pennsylvania Supreme Court is in need of, it’s a public makeover, especially after that photo that circulated to state judges of disgraced former Justice Orie Melvin in handcuffs.
Part of her punishment arising from her public corruption conviction was to pen a written apology on her police booking mug shot and mail out, at her expense, a copy of the image to all of the commonwealth’s judges.
The act no doubt tainted the judiciary’s image.
Some contend Stevens is just the person to help facilitate that hoped-for changing public view.
Stevens not only made it his goal to make the Superior Court website more open and public-friendly, but as president judge of the appellate body he also made a decision to host traveling court sessions, holding judicial proceedings on the campuses of high schools and universities, with the ultimate goal of educating the citizenry on the inner workings of the judiciary, and appellate court procedure in particular.
As for finally having another body on the high court to help facilitate justice, especially in the event of a tie court decision, that in and of itself appears to be a sigh of relief for many.
“It’s time for our Supreme Court to operate at full capacity so we’re glad there will soon be a full complement of seven justices,” Lynn Marks, executive director of the advocacy group Pennsylvanians for Modern Courts, told the Pennsylvania Record.
As for Stevens, Marks said since the jurist has already served on an appellate bench, the learning curve should be short, which is a plus.
“There is a lot of important work ahead and we know that Judge Stevens – almost Justice Stevens – is up to the task,” she said.