On Primary Day this week, Pennsylvania Democratic Rep. Bob Brady was concerned that some ballots being distributed by ward leaders would cost Democratic judicial candidates. Brady called members of the City Committee to “flood” the ward in question and “to send a message,” demonstrating the might of the party’s political machine.
According to the Philadelphia Daily News, all but two of the 12 candidates the party endorsed came out on top in Tuesday’s Philadelphia primary, and one of them was in a neck-and-neck contest.
Republican candidate Anne Marie Coyle, who was listed first on the ballot, was the only Republican to advance from the primary. Critics of Pennsylvania’s judicial elections who prefer a merit-based system argue that the primary shows why the elections should be scrapped. Read more
Will Pennsylvania see the next serious push to remove a state Supreme Court justice in a retention (yes-or-no) election? Two reform activists want to make that happen.
Eric Epstein and Tim Potts unveiled on Monday a self-funded report critical of Chief Justice Ronald Castille’s management of the state’s judicial system and of his handling of some cases, and arguing that voters must “put the ‘no’ in November” on their ballots, according to an Associated Press article.
Justice Castille said the findings presented by the activists were “slanted,” according to Watchdog.org. He told the Morning Call that the collection of newspaper clippings released to news media gave only part of the story — the negative part — without addressing his actions to fix scandals or other problems. He also called Epstein and Potts “known gadflies” who “represent a point of view.”
“They’re just looking at the headlines saying that I’m responsible for every negative thing that happened in the court over the last six years that I’ve been Chief Justice, which is an impossibility,” he said, according to a WESA FM news report. “There’s 15,000 court employees.”
Epstein and Potts played roles in a successful drive to repeal a controversial government pay-raise law passed in 2005. Their report touched on issues including a juvenile justice corruption scandal in Luzerne County, oversight of the Philadelphia Read more
A grassroots group will be calling for the ouster of Pennsylvania Supreme Court Chief Justice Ron Castille in a fall retention (up-or-down) election, a Philadelphia Daily News column said.
The column by John Baer said a Harrisburg-based group called Rock the Capital was planning release on Monday of a report outlining why it believes voters should not retain Justice Castille.
The same group successfully sought the ouster of a state Supreme Court justice in 2005. Similar efforts in 2007 and in 2011 were defeated easily.
Justice Castille told the newspaper he did not think individual rulings and other controversies should be adopted as a sole measure for judicial performance.
After she was sentenced last week to serve three years’ house arrest, former Pennsylvania Supreme Court Justice Joan Orie Melvin went to a resentencing hearing this week so the judge could fix a potential technical error.
According to the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette, Allegheny County Judge Lester Nauhaus made sure to state that Melvin is ordered to serve three, one-year terms of house arrest consecutively, instead of one, three-year period.
Melvin will also have to pay roughly $128,000 from her pension fund to cover fines and legal fees. The article says part of the money from her pension will go to her sister, Janine Orie, who was also convicted on corruption charges. Read more
The judge who sentenced ex-Justice Joan Orie Melvin of the Pennsylvania Supreme Court this week has set a resentencing hearing for Tuesday, but he signalled it will deal only with a legal technicality.
Common Pleas Court Judge Lester Nauhaus said he will sentence Orie Melvin to three consecutive one-year terms of house arrest, as opposed to three years of house arrest, the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette reported. “There is absolutely no difference in those sentences,” he said. “It is absolutely form over substance.”
The ex-justice was convicted of corruption in the conduct of her two campaigns for the high court. This week, her sentence included an order to have her photograph taken in handcuffs, and sign copies with apologies to all her former fellow judges. There was controversy over her sentencing (see Gavel Grab).
A judge’s order that convicted ex-Justice Joan Orie Melvin of Pennsylvania write an apology to all of her former fellow state jurists, with a photograph of her in handcuffs (see Gavel Grab), is sparking controversy.
A Pittsburgh Post-Gazette article was headlined, “Experts say judge’s ‘shaming’ order for Orie Melvin may not be enforceable/Legal experts raise constitutional issues.”
Despite her conviction on corruption counts, Orie Melvin proclaims her innocence. Law professor Jules Epstein of Wilder University said, “Even when you are convicted of a crime, you retain your Fifth Amendment protection against self-incrimination. You can’t be punished for refusing to exercise it.”
In the Pittsburgh Tribune-Review, columnist Eric Heyl mocked those who consider the sentencing too harsh — Orie Melvin also was sentenced to three years in house arrest, and a $55,000 fine — in a commentary entitled, “Wow, judge! Show mercy on Melvin.” Read more
The Pennsylvania Supreme Court heard oral arguments on Wednesday in challenge to a provision in the state constitution that requires judges to retire when they reach the age of 70.
Several state judges have brought the challenges. Among arguments made before the court was a view advocated by the commonwealth’s lawyers that the plaintiff judges should be seeking a constitutional amendment, not a court decision.
For the high court to strike down a constitutional amendment that was approved by voters in a proper fashion would “upend the basic principles of democracy,” Senior Deputy Attorney General John Delone said, according to a Patriot-News article.
A judge who sentenced ex-Justice Joan Orie Melvin of the Pennsylvania Supreme Court for corruption on Tuesday delivered stern remarks and an unusual order, which a newspaper labeled “humiliation.” According to the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette:
“At the judge’s order, Orie Melvin posed before the county photographer, in handcuffs. She must write notes of apology on the photograph and send one to every jurist in the state.”
“You brought shame to the judiciary,” Common Pleas Judge Lester Nauhaus told Orie Melvin, who was sentenced to three years in house arrest. “There are 500 members of the judiciary who have been tarnished by your behavior.”
The reform group Pennsylvanians for Modern Courts, meanwhile, said in a statement that Orie Melvin owes an apology to the public:
“The most important apology Joan Orie Melvin must make is not to other members of the judiciary but to the people of Pennsylvania. Being a judge is about more than just deciding cases. It is about upholding the integrity of the judiciary and ensuring access to justice. It’s a difficult job with a lot of responsibility that often requires personal sacrifices. By engaging in campaign corruption, Orie Melvin broke her oath to Pennsylvanians. Judges must be held to a higher standard because they sit in judgment of others.” Read more
The Pennsylvania Supreme Court will hear oral arguments next week in a case that will impact the state’s law on judicial age limits, but the justices should steer clear of this case at all costs, argues a Leigh Valley Express-Times editorial.
Under the Pennsylvania Constitution, state judges are required to retire from the bench when they reach the age of 70. Several lawyers and judges have sued to challenge the requirement, which has existed since 1969 (see Gavel Grab).
The editorial says that Chief Justice Ronald D. Castille will face mandatory retirement this year, and four other justices will reach age 70 within the next five years. Read more
The Pennsylvania Cable Network’s Pennsylvania Neighborhoods program hosted a special panel recently on the state’s selection methods for judges.
Executive Director of Pennsylvanians for Modern Courts, Lynn Marks, spoke during the panel on proposed efforts to change Pennsylvania’s system of judicial elections, according to a PMC press release. Pennsylvanians for Modern Courts is a Justice at Stake partner organization.
Sen. John Eichelberger (R), Sen. Anthony Williams (D) and Philadelphia Bar Association Chancellor Kathleen Wilkinson also spoke on the panel. Read more