As expected, Pennsylvania House begins formal process for impeachment of Supreme Court Justice Orie Melvin

I mentioned last week that despite a huge influx of impeachment attempts in 2011/2012 against judges that 2013 has effectively zero or possibly 1 such effort. That possible effort is now officially confirmed in Pennsylvania.

Yesterday (March 14) HR 159 was formally filed in the House Judiciary Committee authorizing the House Judiciary Committee to investigate State Supreme Court Justice Joan Orie Melvin. Justice Melvin was convicted in February of using state employees to assist in campaigns. The justice, already suspended from the Supreme Court, is set to be sentenced May 7 and there is no indication one way or the other if she intends to resign from office and she may yet be removed from office by the state’s Court of Judicial Discipline.

HR 159 specifically authorizes the House Judiciary Committee, and separately the Subcommittee on Courts to “to investigate the conduct of the Honorable Joan Orie Melvin, of the Pennsylvania Supreme Court, to determine whether Joan Orie Melvin is liable to impeachment for misbehavior in office and to report to the House the conclusions of the committee in respect to the investigation and determination with its appropriate recommendations.”

There have been only 4 other such resolutions introduced in the Pennsylvania House in the last 20 years.

Supreme Court Justice Rolf Larsen (1993): HR 4 (called for select committee, never adopted) and HR 205 (House Judiciary Committee, adopted November 23, 1993) targeted then-Supreme Court Justice Rolf Larsen. Justice Larsen had been charged in October of  that year with several counts related to prescription drug fraud. He was found guilty in April 1994 of two counts of criminal conspiracy. Larsen was eventually removed from office due to the conviction (the state’s constitution prohibits people convicted of an “infamous crime” from holding office). When Larsen appealed the “infamous crime” finding, the General Assembly went on to impeach and convict him, removing him from office.

Philadelphia Court of Common Pleas Judge Willis Berry, Jr. (2010 & 2011): HR 603 of 2010 and HR 124 of 2011 both called on the House Judiciary Committee to investigate Judge Berry on accusations he made use of his office and judicial secretary for a decade to assist him in the day-to-day operations concerning a dozen housing properties he owned. The state’s Court of Judicial Discipline suspended him for four months without pay in 2009; he was encouraged to resign by the Philadelphia Bar however Berry returned to work. Neither request for an impeachment investigation advanced out of the House Judiciary Committee and Judge Berry continued to serve until he reached the mandatory retirement age of 70 in 2012.

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