The tainted prosecution of Justice Joan Orie Melvin

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It’s obvious. In order to help ease his path to the governor’s office, Corbett protected his cronies in the Republican-controlled state senate from investigation and prosecution.

Like DA Zappala, Corbett was more interested in prosecuting his political and personal enemies – prominent Democrats in the General Assembly — for these same offenses.

 Tom Corbett, the record is clear, protected GOP allies like Orie in the state senate.

As we see here, the question in Pennsylvania increasingly appears to be not whether you have broken a law, but who you know, who you don’t know, and whether you have rocked a boat, or gone along.

These are some of the issues that should rightfully be addressed at a full impeachment trial of Justice Melvin in the state senate.

An impeachment trial in the state senate would no doubt be uncomfortable, to say the very least, for many politically protected state senators, their staffers, and Gov. Tom Corbett.

Political court operatives meanwhile threaten to short-circuit any highly embarrassing impeachment trial in the senate.

Their preferred plan is to dispose of Justice Melvin by misusing the court’s comatose and politically motivated Judicial Conduct Board to remove her quickly, before any more embarrassing information can be made public in an open impeachment trial.

But Justice Melvin, we should remember, has the right to appeal her conviction, as does any defendant. She also has 30 days after her conviction to respond to a Conduct Board complaint against her.

Justice Melvin’s sentencing won’t occur until May 7. Her conviction, by state law, and her rights of appeal, won’t even take effect until her sentence has been pronounced in May.

So there are strong procedural comparisons to Melvin and Larsen’s predicaments.

A criminal conviction and a pending appeal, historically, are grounds for a public legislative impeachment, not a secretive Judicial Conduct Board proceeding.

There are other problems, both obvious and not so obvious, with a secretive Judicial Conduct Board disposition. Judicial Conduct Board proceedings typically can be tied up for months, or years. It’s called “due process.

As well, in the last few decades, the Judicial Conduct Board, like AG Corbett, has earned a reputation for protecting cronies, and going after only enemies of the court. That should not be allowed to happen in Justice Melvin’s case.

All of which means that a public impeachment trial in the state senate may not only be desirable, but is necessary to get to the bottom of things.

A public impeachment trial in the state senate would open a window and shine light on misbehavior at the highest levels of state and Allegheny County government.

It’s clearly in the interest of justice, and the public interest, to have a full trial in the state senate to air the case against the Orie sisters, and their prosecution at the hands of an unethical political, and personal enemy.

Ironically, in the mid-1990s, the Zappala family’s antics took center stage at the state senate impeachment trial of Justice Rolf Larsen.

At the time, critics of the court, like Common Cause Pennsylvania, suggested the Zappalas should have been more fully investigated and, like Larsen, removed from positions of public responsibility.

Should Justice Melvin assert her right to a full trial in the state senate, the Zappala family again will take center stage, and it will be déjà vu all over again.

The question then will be: why weren’t these problems involving these same individuals not properly addressed by the legislature in the 1990s, during the senate trial of Justice Larsen?

And did the legislature’s failure to act properly in the 1990s cause the problems we face today?

EDITOR’S NOTE: Bill Keisling is the author of “We All Fall Down”, the story of the impeachment of Pennsylvania state Supreme Court Justice Rolf Larsen, a once-popular Pittsburgh jurist. Keisling’s account suggests that Larsen’s impeachment was a blemish on democracy that should concern all Americans. Keisling describes the breakdown of nearly every democratic institution in the state that cradled American democracy.

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