Tuesday, March 27, 2012

Is Justice Joan Orie Melvin Next?

Now that State Senator Jane Orie has been convicted of 14 public corruption charges over the use of taxpayer resources to for her sister's Supreme Court race, is Justice Joan Orie Melvin next?  Melvin has been targeted by a Pittsburgh Grand Jury that recommended charges against Senator Orie and a third sister, Janine.

Back in 2007, when Melvin was seeking retention on the Superior Court, I spoke out against her. Below is an excerpt.

Joan Orie Melvin is a Politically Ambitious Woman

A Pittsburgh native, Melvin first managed to get herself appointed as a judge in 1990, filling a vacancy. At that time, she had only been practicing law nine years. The following year, as an incumbent, she was elected to a full term as a common pleas judge. But she never served that term. A mere seven years later, she was on the campaign warpath again, this time winning her current seat on the superior court.

During the time she spent traipsing across the state, picking up votes, she pretty much ignored her responsibilities as a common pleas judge. An investigative report by a team of eleven reporters at the Post-Gazette, cast a very public spotlight on a very unresponsive Melvin, a person who obviously considers her personal ambition more important than her work as a judge.

Melvin thumbed her nose at a six-week trial term because a pesky little jury trial might interfere with her quest to become an appellate judge. Her courtroom was "virtually shut down . . . for several weeks" while she "spent numerous weekdays out of town campaigning."

After stewing for a few years on this intermediate court, she decided to take a stab for a seat with the supremes in 2003. She and Democrat Max Baer engaged in a money war, spending an obscene $3.34 million over one seat on the state high court. This exceeds the total amount spent in all judicial races during the previous two years. Forty-three per cent of this money came from lawyers, a drastic increase from the ten percent total in the 2001 race.

Although the Code of Judicial Conduct clearly permits judicial candidates to speak out on issues, Melvin still refused to do so. Max Baer, who eventually beat her, said this during a televised debate. "I think you have a right to know what I feel, what I believe in, who I am." And he chastised Melvin for hiding her personal views during a televised debate with him, but expressing her views on tort reform and abortion in comments to Melvin-friendly audiences.

As you've probably guessed, Melvin is politically connected. Her sister, Jane Orie, just happens to be a state senator. Incidentally, she's a member of the judiciary committee, too. According to The Insider, these two sisters have a "well-known long-standing political feud" with fellow Republican Melissa Hart. "If Hart came out for light, the Ories would back dark."

Judges like Melvin prove Norco DA John Morganelli's point - "judges are probably the most political animals in the political and legal jungle." But the Pennsylvania Bar Association still recommends her retention. That's no shocker, considering that these sycophants recommended the retention of insurance fraud Defendant Michael (call me Judge) Joyce, too.

Thin-Skinned Melvin Tries Some Legal Intimidation Against Cyber-Critics

In addition to being a political animal, Melvin is also a thin-skinned bully. She proved that through five years of quixotic litigation in two separate states over anonymous comments posted on a Pittsburgh-based political gossip site. A group of John Does had criticized her "misconduct" in asking Governor Ridge to appoint someone she knew to a judgeship. I'm not sure how that even constitutes defamation, but I guess it must be per se defamation to criticize a superior court judge.

First, she sued in Virginia, trying to learn the identity of the anonymous cretins who had sullied her sparkling reputation. She got nowhere.

She had a little more success on her home field when she filed a second lawsuit in Allegheny County. But America Online branded Melvin's attempt at intimidation "an illegitimate use of the courts to silence and retaliate against speakers." And Witold Walczak, Executive Director of the Pittsburgh ACLU, noted the important role of anonymous speech in a democracy. "Not only did The Federalist Papers and Thomas Paine's Common Sense, both printed pseudonymously, change the course of American history, but evidence today suggests that anonymous Internet speech played a role in the collapse of the Soviet Union."

The state supreme court eventually agreed, and ruled Melvin had to prove financial loss before demanding the identity of her critics. "[G]enerally, the constitutional right to anonymous free speech is deeply rooted in public policy that goes beyond this particular litigation, and ... it falls within the class of rights that are too important to be denied review."

Thankfully, Melvin abandoned her legal bullying. Never admitting she had been wrong, her attorney claimed it would have taken too many years.

Melvin Sues Again, Over That Payraise

Now with her defamation suit out of the way, Melvin took politics by litigation to a new level by suing to demand that the state pay her less money. She lost that suit, too. Here's what one of those dastardly anonymous cyber-critics said. "[F]or a sitting judge to seek a court order barring the payment to her of a pay raise--a raise the Pennsylvania Supreme Court had already ruled could not constitutionally be repealed--is an abuse of the very judicial system she purportedly represents. I will certainly vote 'no' on her retention."

Gee, I wonder if she's going to sue him.

Her Mean-Spirited Record From the Bench

Melvin has 139 written opinions online, and 31 of these are concurring or dissenting opinions. These opinions, quite frankly, reveal a mean-spirited person who should not be sitting in judgement of anyone. In her little world, juvenile adjudications would count as criminal convictions under the "three strikes" act. The fourth amendment protection against unreasonable search and seizure would be meaningless. An insurance company contractually required to pay for a building in disrepair would not be required to do so unless that building collapsed. A father who disciplines his daughter would be subjected to a PFA order. On appeal, she would make her own credibility determinations on witnesses she never saw or heard, forbidden territory for an appellate judge.


Melvin might be a gifted politician, but she's not a gifted judge. Her attempt at legal intimidation could be expected from a major corporation, but a slapsuit from a sitting judge is bizarre. And her second suit over the payraise is pure grandstanding. Her money gathering, especially from lawyers, is obscene. And her contrarian opinions reveal an utter lack of compassion.


Anonymous said...


Well said!!

According to what I've read, The Grand Jury will now focus on the Judge and her election campaign that was operating from the Senators office.

Mark Baker said...

Very interesting blog BO.

The job jumping and attorney contributions makes her sound like a female reichly.

Ah, for the good ole days of the Salem witch trials..........

Anonymous said...


The Senator crashed and Burned!

Is this only occurring in Pa. or is this happening Nationwide.

This reminds me of the Shapp Administration!!!

Bernie O'Hare said...

I've done no study and only know about Pa. I think things are pretty bad here.

I really thought Orie wold be acquitted c the jury was out so long.

Anonymous said...

thanks for the context

Anonymous said...

What is sad is that it was so apparent that the senator was mis-using the office and Corbett did nothing about it. If it wasn't for the DA, this wouldn't have happened. It reinforces how selective Corbett was in pursuing corruption. Maybe the new AG will change that.

Anonymous said...

I must agree with you, When Corbett was AG, his office chose to ignore these allegations and failed to investigate.

At the time she was #3 in the Senate and was the darling of the Allegheny County R's. She also represented Corbett's home district.

Anonymous said...

Whats with the face.
Is this the face of truth!

Anonymous said...

Had personally dealth with this woman when she was a judge on the Court of Common Pleas. She is as corrupt as one can be. I sit today in full belief of "karma." It's your turn Joan. May the fleas of a thousand camels make their home with you in your jail cell.