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Nazareth, Pa., United States

Thursday, April 08, 2010

Should Justice Joan Orie Melvin Step Down?

Now that two of the Orie sisters - Senator Jane and Janine - are under indictment for using the senator's state office to elect a third sister to the state's highest Court, should Justice Joan Orie Melvin step down?

Pa Clean Sweep activist Gene Stilp, claiming she'd have to be "deaf, dumb and blind not to know what was going on in her campaign" last year, has filed a complaint with the Judicial Conduct Board. He'd like her to resign.

Back in October, I posted The Orie Story. After yesterday's indictment, I decided it republish it below.

Joan Orie Melvin, a Pennsylvania Superior Court Judge, would very much like to be one of the seven Supremes sitting on our state's highest court. So for the second time in six years, she's running for an open seat, billing herself as a "strict constructionist." Together with sister Jane, a powerful and partisan state senator, the Ories are creating a family dynasty that blurs the separation of power that should exist between the legislative and judicial branch.

Sister Jane just happens to be a member of the judiciary committee. When another powerful state senator, Joe "special election" Scarnetti guaranteed he would personally raise $1.7 million for Melvin, she became in instant hit with the millionaires' club sometimes called the Republican State Committee. As Northampton County Bulldog Ron Angle, himself a state committeeman, puts it, "If anything rings a bell with those Republicans, it's money." She was hand-picked to run by the blue bloods. They turned their noses up at the alternative, Superior Court Judge Cheryl Allen. Allen could give them a black candidate, but the state committee prefers green.

Now, sisters Joan and Jane are steamrolling their way to election this November, even getting The Teamsters to make people understand the Orie Story. Only one person stands in their way - the son of a carpet roller. He's the Lehigh Valley's very own Jack Panella, himself a Superior Court Judge. Now I could fill this blog with all kinds of nice stories about Panella, but that's not the reason for this post. I want to tell you the Orie Story. I've written about her before, when she had no opponent, recommending against her retention on the Superior Court. I don't believe she longs on the bench at all, to say nothing of the Supreme Court.

Politically Ambitious

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 I've mentioned, Melvin and her state senate sister, Jane Orie, are trying to create some sort of family dynasty. 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."

Thin-Skinned

In addition to being a political animal, Melvin is fairly thin-skinned. She proved that through five years of quixotic litigation in two separate states over anonymous comments posted on a Pittsburgh-based political gossip site. An anonymous Allegheny County employee called "Grant Street 99" 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 cretin 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 critic. "[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.

Incidentally, the anonymous critic lost his county job and an unlawful termination lawsuit.

Melvin Practices Government by Litigation

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 hope she doesn't sue me.

Her Mean-Spirited Record From the Bench

Two years ago, Melvin had 139 written opinions online, 31 of which are concurring or dissenting opinions. These opinions, quite frankly, reveal a mean-spirited person who should not be sitting in judgment of anyone. In her little world, even 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.

Conclusion

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 contrarian opinions reveal an utter lack of compassion. I'll have more about her campaign, hopefully later this week, assuming she does not have me arrested.

21 comments:

Anonymous said...

Somebody step down from government because there are some background corruption issues.

Who would be left in state government?

Anonymous said...

personally, I love that on a decision earlier this year, the chief justice slapped her concurring opinion down and effectively gave her the "what are you talking about" lecture in his writings.

To answer the question, she should step down. If she doesn't know what is going on in her campaign, then I don't want her making decisions about life and death in Harrisburg. And while we are at it, Jane should be thrown in jail and lose her pension while more editorial boards start questioning why Tom Corbett stayed so far away from this grand jury investigation. Corbett went after to R's that have little value to the harrisburg insiders (Feese and Perzel) but left the curruption of the 3rd ranking senate R slide.

Corbett isn't cleaning up harrisburg. He's just picking up a copule pieces of trash and letting the rest pile high.

Anonymous said...

I thought the Senator was wonderful in the Wizard of Oz.

Anonymous said...

Their behavior is SOP for government types. Dog bites man. No story here.

Anonymous said...

Pa Clean Sweep activist Gene Stilp, claiming she'd have to be "deaf, dumb and blind not to know what was going on in her campaign" last year,

Whew! Sure glad ya didn't say
deaf, dumb and blond!

Anonymous said...
This comment has been removed by a blog administrator.
Anonymous said...

No...they are both way too hot.
we need them in government.

Anonymous said...

"I thought the Senator was wonderful in the Wizard of Oz."

now that's funny

Anonymous said...

"Government by litigation", sounds like you and Angle!


Domino

Anonymous said...

Thin skinned hated anonymity, doesn't that describe you when people post the truth about your hero's? You and Angle work to expose people to hate hate and vengeance who post anonymously.

If you get angry at an anonymous poster, you claim to know who it is and then go on to defame them with no real proof.

You and Angle are hypocrites. Actually everything you throw at this woman could be said about you and Angle.

Bernie O'Hare said...

"they are both way too hot."

You need to get out more.

Anonymous said...

They remind me of Sam Bennett. Blond, phony, corrupt three headed hydra!

Alan Earnshaw said...

Bernie,

One of our most cherished principles is (or should be) that one is innocent until proven guilty. Should Senator Orie be convicted, Justice Orie Melvin should immediately resign from the Court (or be removed through the impeachment process, if she refuses to resign).

Until Sen. Orie has been tried in a court of law (as opposed to the court of public opinion), I feel it is premature to call for Justice Orie Melvin's resignation.

Bernie O'Hare said...

I'm not sure she should step down myself, but I do think the Judicial Conduct Board should jump all over this. Ironically, Joan Orie Melvin called them ineffectual and unwilling to investigate judges when she was running for the state's high court. I wonder if she will join her sister and now claim that her accusers are Mafia, as they did with the DA.

Anonymous said...

One of the D lt guv candidates is calling for Corbett to step down in light of his unwillingness to investigate the Orie Political Currption Tree. I wonder how much money Corbett contributed to these candidates and vice versa.

I'm willing to bet no money changed hands with Perzel, Feese, Veon, DeWeese and Stetler... i guess contributions make corruption investigations go away.

Ed Rendell said...

Yes, they do.

Anonymous said...

Speaking of Feese, I'm from his hometown. His first marriage garnered him the nickname,
"Rock 'em Sock 'em".

Anonymous said...

Ohare hates Women. A confirmed "bachelor", if you know what I mean!

Bernie O'Hare said...

Actually, I hate everybody.

Anonymous said...

Bernie
have to agree with you on this one
the Orie sisters are interesting characters
vote em all out

Anonymous said...

I wonder if the sisters ever tried to fix any cases involving Republican "interests?"

It would have been easy. Say, a republican political operative gets to Sister Senator, then Sister Senator gets to Sister Judge's Aide or Sister Judge herself! ...and, what if that "operative" was already involved in getting both sisters where they are today?

Hmmm... wonder if anything like that EVER could have happened?

Naaa... I'm sure the PERSONAL INTEGRITY of all those involved in such a hypothetical situation was such that they'd NEVER try to do such a thing.