Gavel Grab

Search results

Convicted Ex-Justice Ordered to Apologize to Judges

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

No comments

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.

No comments

Monday Gavel Grab Briefs

In these other dispatches about fair and impartial courts:

  • U.S. Supreme Court Justice Stephen Breyer underwent shoulder replacement surgery over the weekend following a bicycle accident. The Associated Press reports that Breyer was injured in a fall near the Korean War Veterans Memorial on Friday.
  • The U.S. Supreme Court should hear the appeal of a D.C. Circuit Court decision that overturned President Obama’s recess appointments to a labor agency, argues a Washington Post blog. The Circuit Court’s decision was “radical,” and has a far-reaching effect on former presidential recess appointments, it says.
  • This week, the Supreme Court could issue a ruling on an affirmative action case the justices heard in October. According to Salon, the high court may hold off from making a ruling, since the justices will soon hear another affirmative action case concerning a ban on the policy in Michigan.
  • According to North Carolina Policy Watch, Republican state lawmakers may soon succeed in their efforts to end public financing for judicial elections. Former state governors Jim Hunt and Jim Holshouser recently came out in support of the state’s public financing program (see Gavel Grab).
  • Lawmakers in Pennsylvania are debating which judicial selection system would be the best method to replace judicial elections, according to Judges on Merit. Merit selection would eliminate the flaws inherent in political elections, it says, while making sure the public is still involved. Judges on Merit is sponsored by Pennsylvanians for Modern Courts, a Justice at Stake partner organization.

No comments

PMC Executive Director Promotes Merit Selection on TV Panel

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

No comments

Ex-Governor Lingle of Hawaii Defends Merit Selection

Former Republican Gov. Linda Lingle of Hawaii has defended merit selection of judges and four Pennsylvania ex-governors who are advocating a switch to merit selection in their state.

Lingle detailed her views in a letter to the editor of the Wall Street Journal, which recently published an editorial critical of merit selection (see Gavel Grab for the ex-governors’ response).

Lingle wrote that the Journal editorial set up a false choice in portraying the only methods for picking state judges as “the rough and tumble of electoral accountability” and “leaving the choices to a lawyer’s guild that is accountable to no one but themselves.”

Read more

No comments

Ex-Governors Refute Wall Street Journal Editorial on Merit

“Merit selection isn’t about selecting liberal or conservative judges,” four former Pennsylvania governors said in a letter to the editor refuting the central thesis of a recent critical Wall Street Journal editorial. The editorial said merit selection “has regularly sent state courts to the left.”

“As former governors of Pennsylvania, we care about choosing judges based on their experience and qualifications, not their political connections and fundraising skills. Merit selection is supported by a broad coalition of Pennsylvania businesses, civic and law-related organizations and religious groups,” the former governors wrote.

The group of former governors includes Republicans Dick Thornburgh and Tom Ridge, and Democrats George Leader and Ed Rendell. In March, they wrote a letter to the state legislature touting the benefits of merit selection, particularly in the wake of Supreme Court Justice Joan Orie Melvin’s conviction (see Gavel Grab) for public corruption.

The former governors, further disagreeing with the editorial,  said merit selection of judges provides accountability. Read more

No comments

Opinion: Merit Selection Warrants Attention in Pennsylvania

Pennsylvania voters regularly elect their state appellate judges, even though few of them know more than the candidates’ name or gender. A Go Erie opinion argues that Pennsylvanians should heed the advice of four former state governors, and adopt a system of merit selection.

Former governors Dick Thornburgh, Tom Ridge, George Leader and Ed Rendell wrote a letter to the state Legislature in March touting the benefits of merit selection, particularly in the wake of suspended Supreme Court Justice Joan Orie Melvin’s conviction.

“The conviction of a Supreme Court justice for campaign corruption is just one more example that highlights the need for reform,” the governors wrote. “Electing appellate court judges in divisive, expensive, partisan elections is not working for the people of Pennsylvania. This is an issue that transcends politics, party lines, and individual agendas.” Read more

No comments

Monday Gavel Grab Briefs

In these other dispatches about fair and impartial courts:

  • With so few people able to gain access to the U.S. Supreme Court to watch oral arguments, the justices should stop being so “camera shy” and allow their proceedings to be recorded and televised, argues an Iowa City Press-Citizen editorial. They should emulate the example of state courts, such as the Iowa Supreme Court, and give video coverage a try, the editorial says.
  • Legal scholars in Pennsylvania continue to debate the potential benefits or consequences of adopting merit selection for state appellate judges. According to Pennsylvania’s WITF, Duquesne University School of Law professor Bruce Ledewitz argues that merit selection is a misleading term because judges are also selected based on “policy and politics.”
  • As California’s court system struggles under severe budget cuts, an editorial in The Reporter states that the California judiciary needs a new funding model that will allow for a more equitable distribution of the budget. A working group of judges has been meeting in recent weeks to determine new methods for funding the courts (see Gavel Grab).

No comments

Pennsylvania Editorials Sharply Divided on Merit Selection

Pennsylvania’s method of electing appeals court judges is “flawed,” argues a Centre Daily Times editorial. Statewide elections force judges to seek campaign contributions from lawyers and other individuals who may appear before them in court.

The editorial applauds the views of four former Pennsylvania governors who recently came out in support of switching to a system of merit selection for judges (see Gavel Grab). With merit selection in place, judges won’t find themselves awash in campaign money that can skew the appearance of their impartiality, the editorial says.

Voters often lack information on judicial candidates, causing them to “take a shot in the dark in making their selections.” Former Gov. Tom Ridge has argued that judicial elections cast “a heavy cloud over the integrity and independence of our judicial system.” Read more

No comments

Column: Pennsylvania’s Highest Court in a ‘Supreme Mess’

Short one justice and with another who may have to retire due to age restrictions, the Pennsylvania Supreme Court is in a sticky situation, according to a Philadelphia Daily News column by John Baer.

Seven justices typically sit on the bench, but Justice Joan Orie Melvin was suspended last May, leaving only six to decide cases. Melvin resigned from the court this wek after being convicted earlier this year on public corruption charges (see Gavel Grab).

If the justices decide any case on a three-three vote, the decision is “meaningless,” and the lower court decision would stand, Baer says.

Chief Justice Ron Castille is currently 69 years old, and may have to step down soon since Pennsylvania’s constitution decrees that “judges retire at 70.” The requirement is currently being challenged in court. Read more

No comments

Next Page »