May 20 2012
An editorial in the Scranton Times Tribune argues that the indictment of Justice Joan Orie Melvin on charges of political corruption illustrates the need for merit selection in Pennsylvania. According to the editorial, “The charges go to the heart of the commonwealth’s folly in conducting elections for appellate court seats, rather than filling those seats through a merit-selection screening process and gubernatorial appointment with Senate confirmation.”
Justice Orie Melvin was indicted Friday on nine counts relating to her alleged use of state-funded staff and resources for her campaign for the state Supreme Court. Pursuant to a Supreme Court order, she has been suspended from all judicial and administrative duties. She will continue to receive pay and benefits.
The editorial argues that “[j]udges are supposed to be politically neutral but Pennsylvania’s system contradicts that goal. Judicial candidates solicit contributions from lawyers and narrow-interest groups with business before the courts. They seek the favor of political parties, which is the opposite of neutrality.”
This kind of politicking is detrimental to the Pennsylvania justice system. As PMC’s Executive Director Lynn Marks stated in a Patriot News article, “Judicial elections require candidates to campaign, participate in very partisan primary processes and fundraise, really blurring and eliminating the distinction between them and politicians. Asking them to go through this partisan process and then be nonpartisan starting after election day, it just doesn’t make sense.”
Hopefully, the House Judiciary Committee, which is scheduled to vote on Merit Selection next Tuesday, will use the Justice Orie Melvin saga as a cautionary tale against judicial elections and vote the Merit Selection bills out of committee.