Inquirer Editorial Extra: Update urged for judicial ethics rules

Pennsylvania Judge Corruption
Former state Supreme Court Justice Joan Orie Melvin, left, leaves court with her husband Greg Melvin after she and her sister, Janine Orie, were sentenced for their February convictions on corruption in Orie Melvin's election campaign, on Tuesday, May 7, 2013, in Pittsburgh. (Keith Srakocic / AP)

The proposition that judges, being our official embodiments of impartiality, should not hire their wives and kids would not be considered revolutionary in many places. Alas, Pennsylvania is not one of them. So let us now praise the Pennsylvania Bar Association for recommending that the state's rules of judicial ethics prohibit nepotism for the first time.

The proposed reform is part of an overdue, wholesale strengthening of the state's weak, outmoded Code of Judicial Conduct, which governs the behavior of judges. The new code was recommended by a Bar Association task force and recently approved by the bar.

On the subject of hiring, the current judicial code advises that judges "should exercise their power of appointment only on the basis of merit, avoiding favoritism." That could be interpreted as discouraging the hiring of relatives, but the state's judiciary clearly hasn't read it that way. The new proposed code, in contrast, states unequivocally that judges "shall avoid nepotism and favoritism."

This is no academic matter in a state where two Supreme Court justices employ their wives as their top aides, while another ex-justice was recently sentenced for crimes involving a sister who was on her staff. The same court could certainly improve its reputation by approving the bar's recommended code.

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