Gavel Grab

Archive for the 'Judicial misconduct' Category

Ex-Justice Melvin Sentenced to Three Years of House Arrest

Former Pennsylvania Supreme Court Justice Joan Orie Melvin, convicted by a jury of criminal corruption in connection with two Supreme Court campaigns, was sentenced on Tuesday to three years of house arrest and two years of probation.

In addition, ex-Justice Melvin was fined $55,000 by Common Pleas Judge Lester G. Nauhaus for the illegal use of her state workers during the campaigns, according to a Pittsburgh Tribune-Review article.

“I don’t believe that Joan Melvin is an evil person but I do believe that her arrogance is stunning,” Judge Nauhaus said, according to a Pittsburgh Post-Gazette report. As part of his sentencing Melvin, he ordered that she send handwritten apologies to all judges in the state.

The former judge’s sister, Janine Orie, was sentenced to a year of house arrest and two years of probation for her convictions in the case. She worked on Melvin’s staff.

The jurist’s conviction by a jury over campaign corruption has sparked high-profile calls for Pennsylvania to switch to a merit-based selection system for picking judges, an option endorsed recently by four former Pennsylvania governors (see Gavel Grab). Justice at Stake, meanwhile, said merit selection has a “real chance” of winning support in Pennsylvania.

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Panel: Louisiana Judicial Candidate Violated Code of Judicial Conduct

On Friday, Louisiana’s Judicial Campaign Oversight Committee declared that Jefferson Parish judicial candidate Hilary Landry violated the state’s Code of Judicial Conduct.

The panel stated that Landry’s campaign flier contained a misleading claim about a case involving her opponent, Scott Schlegel, the Associated Press reports.

Landry’s campaign lawyer, Tom Owen, defended the flier under Landry’s First Amendment right to criticize Schlegel.

Schlegel and Landry went head to head in a runoff election on Saturday. According to WWL-TV News, Schlegel won 67 percent of the vote, and Landry received  33 percent.

WWWL-TV political analyst Clancy DuBos said that Landry was expected to win in an earlier primary, and “she ran second and it wasn’t that close. So when you’re second and you have a lot of money, you need to go on the attack.

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Retired NM Judge Pleads No Contest to Misdemeanor

The Associated Press reports that retired New Mexico District Judge Michael Murphy who was accused of four felony counts in 2011, including bribery, pleaded no contest last week to misdemeanor misconduct charges.

Murphy was previously indicted on charges that he gave $4,000 to former Gov. Bill Richardson to win appointment to the state bench (see Gavel Grab).

The article says Murphy’s case shocked the judiciary two years ago, and Richardson called the accusations of funneling money from judicial candidates “outrageous and defamatory.”

Murphy entered a plea deal that dismissed the four felony charges, the article says.

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PA Justice Orie Melvin's Attorneys Seek a Probation Sentence

Rather than face incarceration, suspended Pennsylvania Supreme Court Justice Joan Orie Melvin’s lawyers argued this week that she should receive a sentence of probation instead.

According to the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette, Melvin will be sentenced May 7. She was convicted earlier this year on criminal corruption charges (see Gavel Grab). Her sister, Janine Orie, was convicted of similar charges as well.

In arguing for probation, Melvin’s attorney Patrick Casey wrote that she is a family-oriented individual, with a life dedicated to public service. Read more

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For Judge Who Forwarded Racist E-Mail, Full Retirement Ahead

Senior Federal District Judge Richard Cebull, a Montanan who apologized for forwarding a racist and sexist e-mail about President Obama, has submitted a letter stating he will retire fully from the bench on May 3, according to Ninth U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals Chief Judge Alex Kozinski.

A special committee investigated both a complaint that Judge Cebull filed against himself and another, and submitted its report to the Judicial Council in December 2012, according to a statement by Judge Kozinski.

The Judicial Council issued an order and memorandum March 15. They are to be confidential during an appeal period, Judge Kozinski wrote.

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Suspended Pennsylvania Supreme Court Justice Resigns

Pennsylvania Supreme Court Justice Joan Orie Melvin submitted her resignation on Monday. The justice, who was suspended earlier from the court, was convicted by a jury last month of public corruption charges arising from two Supreme Court campaigns.

Justice Melvin said she intends to pursue an appeal of her conviction. “In the meantime, however, the citizens of Pennsylvania deserve a fully-staffed Supreme Court,” she wrote in  her resignation letter, according to a Pittsburgh Tribune-Review article.

She was facing possible impeachment proceedings in the Pennsylvania House. Her resignation is to become effective May 1.

Following her conviction, calls have risen for Pennsylvania to switch from partisan elections to an appointive selection system for choosing judges. To learn about four former governors endorsing the appointive path, see Gavel Grab.

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Editorial: End Judicial Election 'Money Circus' in Pennsylvania

A new round of calls for Pennsylvania to adopt merit-based selection of appeals court judges surfaced after a jury convicted state Supreme Court Justice Joan Orie Melvin and her sister, Jane Orie, of corruption charges on Thursday (see Gavel Grab).

“Time to put merit selection of judges on the fast track,” declared the headline for a Philadelphia Daily News editorial. It decried the state of judicial elections in Pennsylvania:

“On one level, Orie’s Melvin’s misconduct should come as no shock in a state where the election of judges turns a process that should ensure the most impartial, fair and qualified justice into a money circus. Such elections force judicial candidates to raise money – from lawyers and others who might ultimately appear before them.

“And as a recent report from the Brennan Center for Justice points out, the ability for special interests to bankroll judicial campaigns is a further chilling indictment of a terrible system. The Brennan report, incidentally, identified Michigan and Pennsylvania as the two costliest states for recent judicial candidates. Orie Melvin and losing candidate Jack Panella raised a combined $5.4 million in their 2009 election.”

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Jury Convicts Pennsylvania Justice Melvin on Six of Seven Counts

A jury in Allegheny County, Pa. returned guilty verdicts against Supreme Court Justice Joan Orie Melvin and her sister, Janine Orie, on six of seven criminal corruption counts that each faced.

The jury had begun deliberating Friday and concluded on Thursday afternoon. The two sisters were charged with theft of services and other crimes in the use of  state-paid staff to work on Justice Melvin’s 2003 and 2009 campaigns for the state Supreme Court.

The jury was unable to reach a verdict on a count of official oppression lodged against Justice Melvin, according to a Pittsburgh Post-Gazette article. She  was suspended from the high court shortly after her indictment in May.

Janine Orie had been employed as an administrative assistant to the judge. In March, a third sister, state Sen. Jane Orie, was convicted of 14 of 24 counts lodged against her (see Gavel Grab).

Justice Melvin is likely to be removed from her judicial seat and to be stripped of her pension, the Pittsburgh Tribune-Review reported.

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Suspended PA Justice Declines to Testify During Trial

The defense for suspended Pennsylvania Supreme Court Justice Joan Orie Melvin rested this week after Melvin declined to testify in her trial on corruption charges, according to a Pittsburgh Post-Gazette article. Closing arguments are scheduled to begin on Friday. 

Janine Orie, Melvin’s sister who worked as her assistant, also declined to testify. The two are charged with theft of services for using state-paid staff to work on Melvin’s 2003 and 2009 campaigns for the state Supreme Court.

The defense focused on refuting evidence from the prosecution that Melvin’s actions had cheated taxpayers out of $33,475 (see Gavel Grab). Read more

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Campaign Operative Testifies in Defense of Accused Judge

Michael Long, a key defense witness for a Pennsylvania Supreme Court justice charged with corruption, testified at her trial that he had little contact with her Superior Court judicial staff when he ran her 2009 campaign for the high court.

“I don’t know those people. I didn’t know their names until I read them in the paper. It never happened. I don’t know what else I can say,” testified Long in defense of suspended Justice Joan Orie Melvin, according to a Pittsburgh Tribune-Review article.

The judge is on trial for alleged misuse of state paid staff to run her 2003 and 2009 election bids to the state’s highest court.

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