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Supreme Court Justice Melvin resigns - abc27 WHTM

Supreme Court Justice Melvin resigns

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HARRISBURG, Pa. (WHTM) -

Joan Orie-Melvin begins her resignation letter, "It is with deep regret and a broken heart that I hereby tender my resignation." It is effective May 1.

The suspended Supreme Court Justice was convicted last month of using state-paid staff and resources for political gain.

"It's always a sad day and it reflects on the entire judiciary," said Supreme Court Chief Justice Ron Castille, who just happened to be the featured speaker at the Pennsylvania Press Club monthly meeting in Harrisburg. His appearance was scheduled months ago, but Melvin's letter increased the newsworthiness of the event.

Castille may be sad to lose Melvin, a fellow Republican, but he's anxious to have her seat filled quickly. He said the high court is deadlocked at three Republicans and three Democrats, and 3-3 ties are not fair to litigants who have spent great time and money to bring cases before the Supreme Court.

The governor, after Melvin's May 1 resignation, has 90 days to appoint a replacement to the court. That person must be confirmed by a two-thirds vote in the senate (34 of 50). That person will serve out the remainder of Melvin's term until an election in November 2015.

The governor, in his own statement, said he will make an appointment quickly. Castille hopes so, but he wondered on Monday whether the senate confirmation process will be drawn out because of politics. Castille said the appointee should be Republican, since Melvin is Republican.

"Who knows how long that [senate confirmation] will take?" wondered Castille with a sigh. "It has to be a candidate that's acceptable. The Democrats may want something for their support, because it's all politics."

If it appears the appointment is being held up, Castille said he and the other justices may select a senior justice to hear cases in the interim.

"I'm looking to have a seventh justice, either way. Either by our appointment or the governor appointing a seventh person. Because until that happens we'll still struggle as six justices. It's simple as that."

Impeachment proceedings against Melvin, which are complicated and time-consuming, will now stop in the state house.  Representative Glen Grell (R-Cumberland County) was a sponsor of impeachment legislation. "We certainly weren't looking to put anyone through that," Grell said. "Especially ourselves and the commonwealth, so I think Melvin's resignation is a good outcome."

The judicial reform group, Pennsylvanians For Modern Courts, is using the Melvin saga as further proof that statewide judges should be selected, not elected.

"Joan Orie-Melvin was convicted for campaign corruption, so this can only happen in a system where we elect judges," said Lynn Marks, PFMC executive director. "So we have to connect the dots. The problem here is electing judges."

Marks points to the explosion in campaign spending on judicial races for Superior, Commonwealth and Supreme Courts. "People need to raise a lot of money and seek endorsements. Sure, merit selection will involve some kind of politics, but it's politics with a small "p" not a big "P," and it gets the money out of the process."

In her resignation letter, Orie Melvin enumerated several positive accomplishments in her 28-year career. She concluded with: "I intend to appeal the jury verdict against me. In the meantime, however, the citizens of Pennsylvania deserve a fully-staffed Supreme Court."

Orie Melvin will be sentenced on May 7.

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