Friday, January 30, 2015

Just some thoughts on justice

The sentencing of former state Supreme Court Justice Joan Orie Melvin deserves a few comments.

Just some thoughts on justice

Couple, three things (okay maybe more) on the sentencing Tuesday of former state Supreme Court Justice Joan Orie Melvin.

If you missed it, the former jurist (she resigned May 1) was convicted of the same type of felonies that sent a bunch of other state officials, including her sister, former state Sen. Jane Orie, to prison.

Those crimes involved public corruption connected to the use of public dollars and other resources to run political campaigns. Currently, eight former lawmakers who held leadership positions, including Orie, are in jail.

But Melvin isn't going to prison. Instead, she drew a sentence from Allegheny County Judge Lester Nauhaus that's comparable to something a grade school teacher or the parent of a grade school pupil would hand out: she's grounded and has to write a bunch of apologies.

She was sentenced to house arrest in what the Pittsburgh Tribune-Review reports is her 3,600-square-foot home in suburban Pittsburgh. And she has to send a picture of herself to state jurists with a letter of apology.

The message?

If you're being sentenced by a judge on the same court you once sat (she had been an Allegheny County judge) your chances of catching a break are pretty good.

Or, the justice reserved for former justices ain't the same as for ordinary felons.

Or, those we elect to judge us are somehow different than us when they are judged.

Or, the above-it-all attitude of our state judiciary first and foremost protects its own.

I'd remind you that the court from which Melvin resigned is the same court that ruled in 2006 that judges could keep the illicit pay raise lawmakers passed in 2005 even though it was later repealed under public pressure.

And it's the same court that Wednesday was hearing arguments on a case seeking to bypass the state Constitution and allow judges to continue on the bench past the mandatory retirement age of 70.

Ideally, those sworn to impartially uphold the law and protect the public trust should adhere to the highest possible standards of behaviour and justice.

In Pennsylvania, that ideal is too often replaced by systematic self-service and protection of a chosen few. The Melvin sentence is but the latest example.




John Baer Daily News Political Columnist
About this blog
John Baer has been covering politics and government for the Daily News since 1987. The National Journal in 2002 called Baer one of the country's top 10 political journalists outside Washington, saying Baer has, "the ability to take the skin off a politician without making it hurt too much." E-mail John at

John is the author of the book "On The Front Lines of Pennsylvania Politics: Twenty-Five Years of Keystone Reporting" (The History Press, 2012). Reach John at

John Baer Daily News Political Columnist
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