Pennsylvania Supreme Court Justice Joan Orie Melvin [official profile] and her sister were convicted Thursday of corruption for misusing state-paid staffers to do campaign work and win a seat on the bench. The sisters were convicted for work done on Melvin's 2003 and 2009 Supreme Court campaigns. Melvin was found guilty on six of seven counts of theft of services, criminal conspiracy and misappropriation of state property. A third sister, former state senator Jane Orie, was also convicted last year and is currently serving two-and-a-half to 10 years in prison. Melvin has been suspended without pay, leaving the high court with three Republican and three Democratic justices until her absence is filled. Pennsylvania Bar Association (PBA) [website] president Thomas Wilkinson commented on the verdict [press release]:
As lawyers, we have a responsibility to do all we possibly can to help preserve the integrity of the justice system and restore public confidence in our judiciary. The many distinguished and honorable judges in Pennsylvania deserve nothing less. An independent and impartial judiciary is a cornerstone of our system of justice, and public confidence in the judiciary is undermined when judges engage in high profile misconduct, such as by directing their law clerks and staff to perform political campaign work when they should be doing the important business of the court.Melvin faces disciplinary proceedings [Pittsburgh Post-Gazette report] from the Judicial Conduct Board, possible disbarment by the state Disciplinary Board and potential impeachment proceedings by the state legislature.
Judicial corruption is a threat worldwide. Last month retired Michigan Supreme Court justice Diane Hathaway pleaded guilty to felony bank fraud [JURIST report]. The charges arose from Hathaway deeding her home in Florida to a relative while negotiating a short sale on the home, resulting in a $600,000 debt they owed to their bank being erased. In October the UN called on nations around the world to do more to combat judicial corruption [JURIST report], stating that it is a human rights issue because it can deprive people of their due process rights. It also said keeping the judiciary free from corruption is critical to "strengthen judicial credibility and independence."