PITTSBURGH (KDKA) – It didn’t take long for the locks to be changed at the office suite of PA Supreme Court Justice Joan Orie Melvin in the Grant Building on Friday.
An unusual court order from her colleagues on the high court ordered her out of the office.
“It’s really extraordinary,” Duquesne Law professor Bruce Ledewitz told KDKA Political Editor Jon Delano. “Now it may be that there was cause for that. Maybe the justices thought that the computers in that office would become matters of evidence. ”
Ledewitz says the high court was leaving nothing to chance.
“It’s really a sad day. Essentially they ordered Justice Orie Melvin to leave the building and turn the keys over, and the marshal will escort her. It’s almost as dramatic as that.”
The court order came after Orie Melvin, through her attorney, said she would voluntarily step aside from her judicial duties while her case was tried.
But her colleagues issued their own orders, relieving her from all responsibilities and closing her Pittsburgh office while letting her keep her $195,000 annual pay and benefits.
“I think she must resign from the court. Right now her suspension without replacement hamstrings the court,” said Ledewitz.
Ledewitz said she must resign because the six-person court frequently deadlocks, but Pitt Law professor David Harris disagrees.
“Part of our system that we need to make sure applies to everybody is that we are presumed innocent until proven guilty.”
The Supreme Court also issued this order, ordering that the equipment, supplies, and records be secured and that the premises be vacated. That includes her eight staff people.
Harris said, given the charges, it’s no surprise.
“If it’s in pursuit of evidence for that case, if what they’re doing is looking for things that are related to the case, that either could be evidence or lead them to evidence, it’s in every way appropriate.”
While the Supreme Court cannot keep Orie Melvin from collecting her $195,000 annual salary, the State Constitution does give an eight-member Court of Judicial Discipline the power to suspend her without pay.
“Prior to hearing, the court may issue an interim order, directing the suspension, with or without pay, of any justice . . . against whom has been filed an indictment or information charging a felony.” [PA Constitution, Article V, Section 18 (d)(2)]
So far, no indication that this court will do that.