May 07 2013
It would be premature to say that the sun is peeking through the clouds.
Pennsylvania has had to weather a great deal of shame and uncertainty since the Orie sisters, who should have been stewards and defenders of the law, instead fell under its scrutiny. Pennsylvanians’ faith in their judiciary is understandably at a low ebb. But now that sentencing is complete for former Justice Joan Orie Melvin and her sister Janine Orie, we can stop worrying about what happened, and turn our more sober thoughts to what we’re actually going to do to ensure that it doesn’t have to happen again.
Joan Orie Melvin – now no longer entitled to the ‘Justice’ designation – will spend the next three years under house arrest, and the following two on probation. She will have to pay a fine of $55,000, and, perhaps most humbling, will have to handwrite personal apologies to every judge in the Commonwealth and to every member of her campaign staff and the campaign staff of her sister, incarcerated former state Senator Jane Orie. Photographs of the fallen justice will serve as stationary for these apologies.
The staff of former Senator Orie is included, of course, because much of this matter arose out of the collaborative misuse of state personnel and services by the Orie sisters to further Orie Melvin’s campaigns for a seat on the high court. It’s been argued in the past that this is how the game is played, that in politics, it’s never what you can do, it’s who you know. But it should be obvious – and now more than ever, as a hobbled Supreme Court has struggled and continues to struggle to compensate for Orie Melvin’s now permanent absence – that we can’t afford politics when it comes to our judges. They should not have to play a game of power and influence to get elected, and who they know should count for absolutely nothing against their fitness to sit on the bench and weigh the law.
Pennsylvania should have judges that are qualified, unbiased, and meritorious, in all ways that the word has meaning. We should have judges who know the law and apply it fairly, not through lenses handed to them by special interests. We should have judges who rise based on their understanding of legal issues, not on how quickly they can stack cash beneath their feet. And if anything, we deserve to have judges who sign photographs because they are heroes – not because they must apologize for being criminals.
Let’s help give Pennsylvania an opportunity to choose a better path. Let’s put Merit Selection on the table.