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.
In these other dispatches about fair and impartial courts:
- When judges are elected, it allows corporations to influence the outcome of the law through campaign contributions, making it difficult for an individual to achieve justice against a powerful company. Billy Corriher of the Center for American Progress writes that big businesses are now spending millions of dollars to elect judges that have sided with corporations over individual Americans.
- The U.S. Supreme Court’s rationale behind its decision in Bush v. Gore was ”unacceptable,” said former Justice John Paul Stevens during a gala event for Public Citizen. According to a Slate article, Stevens said that all votes in the election should have been considered the same way.
- Former immigration lawyer William Orrick III was confirmed by the U.S. Senate to the federal district court in San Francisco on Wednesday. The senators confirmed him on a 56-41 vote, reports the San Francisco Chronicle, with only three Republicans voting in his favor.
- This week, a second federal appeals court ruled that President Barack Obama had overstepped his power when he made recess appointments to the National Labor Relations Board. A Fox News article states that the ruling by the U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals in Philadelphia could stall the actions of the labor agency.
- Five candidates are in the running for two seats on the Fayette County, Pennsylvania Court of Common Pleas, and some candidates have spent less than $10,000 while others have spent more than $130,000 apiece. The candidates will appear on both the Democratic and Republican ballots in the primary, and the top two candidates from each party will appear on the general election ballot, according to the Herald-Standard.
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).
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
For the Pennsylvania Supreme Court to hear a case about judicial age limits would be “imprudent,” and a better route would be consideration of a change to the state Constitution, Northampton County District Attorney John M. Morganelli writes in a Lock Haven Express commentary.
At issue is Pennsylvania’s Constitution, which requires state judges to retire from the bench when they reach the age of 70. Several lawyers and judges have sued to challenge the requirement. Tomorrow, the justices will hear oral arguments on the challenge (see Gavel Grab).
With the chief justice and four other justices turning 70 in upcoming years, “Only time will tell whether self-interest trumps the Constitution,” Morganelli warns.
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.
In these other dispatches about fair and impartial courts:
- Suspended Pennsylvania Supreme Court Justice Joan Orie Melvin officially resigned from the high court on Wednesday. According to the Legal Intelligencer, Melvin’s resignation comes after she was convicted earlier this year on charges of political corruption. See Gavel Grab for more details on her trial.
- On Wednesday, Senior Federal District Judge Richard Cebull served his last day on the bench before retiring. Cebull has been under investigation after he forwarded a racist and sexist email about President Obama from his courthouse computer, reports the Great Falls Tribune Capital Bureau.
- D.C. Superior Court Chief Judge Lee Satterfield and D.C. Court of Appeals Chief Judge Eric Washington spent an hour Wednesday responding to questions on Twitter about courthouse policy and practices as part of this year’s Law Day. The Blog of Legal Times reports that the two jurists answered questions on jury duty, advice for pursuing a legal career and what was the most difficult decision they had to make.
- Louisiana’s 24th Judicial District Court candidates, Hilary Landry and Scott Schlegel, met Monday evening in a forum to tout their strengths and highlight their opponents’ weaknesses, says the New Orleans Times-Picayune. Both Landry and Schlegel seek to take the place of Judge Robert Murphy on the state bench.
- Retired Supreme Court Justice Sandra Day O’Connor made headlines this week when she told the Chicago Tribune editorial board that she had second thoughts about the court’s decision in Bush v. Gore. In a New York Times opinion, Linda Greenhouse writes that it’s unusual for justices to express these kinds of doubts after a case, but perhaps O’Connor does not want her legacy to be defined by the decision the court made in 2000. There was a variety of other opinion on O’Connor’s statements, including a commentary by Lyle Denniston in Constitution Daily.