Pennsylvania Bar Association Issues Statement on Charges Lodged Against Supreme Court Justice

HARRISBURG (May 21, 2012) - On Friday, May 18, 2012, the District Attorney of Allegheny County announced the indictment of Supreme Court Justice Joan Orie Melvin on nine counts of criminal wrongdoing concerning misuse of legislative and judicial staff to perform judicial campaign work. Also on May 18, the Judicial Conduct Board released a complaint against Justice Orie Melvin alleging that she violated the Constitution of the Commonwealth of Pennsylvania and the Code of Judicial Conduct. The Board's counsel will present the case in support of the charges before the Court of Judicial Discipline.

Justice Orie Melvin wrote the Court to voluntarily recuse herself from all judicial duties pending the resolution of the criminal charges. In two Orders released on May 18, the Supreme Court suspended Justice Orie Melvin, relieving her of all judicial and administrative responsibilities as a justice, and also directed the Administrative Office of the Pennsylvania Courts to secure the records, files and equipment that are the Court's property at Justice Orie Melvin's chambers. Justice Orie Melvin has denied the charges.

Pennsylvania Bar Association President Thomas G. Wilkinson Jr. today issued the following statement regarding the developments in the Orie Melvin case:

"Every citizen is entitled to the presumption of innocence and has the right to defend against charges and present evidence on his or her behalf. Having said that, the pending criminal charges, if proven, represent a troubling pattern of criminal misconduct that is incompatible with the high standards of professional conduct the organized bar and the Commonwealth have a right to expect of any judge, let alone a member of this state's highest court.

It is also important to lawyers and litigants that the Supreme Court return to its full complement of seven Justices when hearing cases as soon as possible. We express the hope that the pending proceedings are resolved promptly so that tie votes on pending appeals can be avoided and the public's confidence in the integrity of our highest state court will be maintained."

Wilkinson announced last week the appointment of a task force to review and recommend revisions to the Code of Judicial Conduct governing Pennsylvania state court judges. The task force will conduct a thorough review of the ABA Model Code of Judicial Conduct, which provides guidance to judges on a variety of important ethical matters such as standards for disqualification and recusal from cases to avoid an appearance of impropriety or bias. The task force also will focus on the related issues of the adequacy of the code's standards for disclosure of judicial campaign contributions and gifts.

Founded in 1895, the Pennsylvania Bar Association strives to promote justice, professional excellence and respect for the law; improve public understanding of the legal system; facilitate access to legal services; and serve the 28,000 lawyers who are members of the association.