Feb 27 2013
In the wake of the criminal conviction of suspended state Supreme Court Justice Joan Orie Melvin, a column on TribLive.com offered an idea for an Orie reality show set on a Pennsylvania prison cellblock. The story is definitely surreal – three powerful sisters scheming and toiling to move up the Pennsylvania political food chain only to suffer an unceremonious fall from grace as the result of their own hubris. It’s the stuff of Greek tragedies.
You couldn’t make up a more interesting or compelling family drama if you tried. I have to admit, even I’ve floated the idea of a Lifetime movie based on the sisters.
The more I think about it, though, the more the harsh reality of the situation sinks in. Everything that these three women have spent their entire lives working for is gone. Their reputations have been destroyed. Their careers in public service are over. Beyond their personal despair, the actions of these three women have chipped away at the already fragile foundations supporting Pennsylvania’s governmental institutions.
Maybe we turn to humor because the reality of this story is so devastatingly disheartening that we need a coping mechanism. If we pretend that it’s comical, maybe we can ignore the fact that the integrity of our judicial system has been severely shaken. When a justice of the Commonwealth’s highest court is committing crimes to get herself on the bench, we have a very serious problem.
And it’s not just Orie Melvin. Duquesne University law professor Bruce Ledewitz admitted that the Orie jury would be reluctant to convict if there was any doubt about the level of corruption occurring in the judge’s office. “They’re not going to convict on a fine line. They understand there’s a certain amount of this that probably goes on with all politicians.” When he says politicians, Ledewitz means candidates who are running for office. You know who runs for office? Every judge in the state.
Pennsylvanians have to stop joking about mediocrity and criminality as though it’s a badge of honor or a testament to the “badass” nature of the state. That attitude only enables bad behavior. And saying that “everyone does it” doesn’t make it right.
We need to stop burying our heads in the sand. It’s time to get angry! It’s time to demand change! Pennsylvanians deserve better, and we can do better. The world doesn’t need any more reality shows (or Lifetime movies, for that matter). It’s time to cut the jokes, get serious, and repair the judicial system until we have something that we can be proud of.