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Lawmakers seek co-sponsors for resolution on impeaching Joan Orie Melvin

| Monday, March 11, 2013, 2:36 p.m.

HARRISBURG — Lawmakers on Monday took the first step toward possible impeachment of suspended Supreme Court Justice Joan Orie Melvin, readying for a procedure that appears unlikely.

Two members of the House Judiciary Committee sent other House members a memo seeking co-sponsors for a bipartisan resolution to investigate Melvin's conduct and determine whether to impeach her.

An Allegheny County jury convicted Melvin, 56, a Marshall Republican, last month of theft of services, conspiracy and misappropriation of state property. Jurors found that Melvin and her sister, former court aide Janine Orie, used public resources to benefit Melvin's two campaigns for the high court.

“I think (impeachment) is very, very unlikely,” said Wes Oliver, a Duquesne Law School professor.

Rep. Glen Grell, R-Mechanicsburg, chairman of a judiciary subcommittee on the courts, and minority chairman, Rep. John Sabatina Jr., D-Philadelphia, filed the memo. The full House would have to approve a resolution authorizing an investigation of Melvin.

Two other, more likely options exist for removing Melvin from the court, Oliver said. The trial judge can remove her at sentencing, and the Court of Judicial Discipline has an ongoing case.

Judge Lester G. Nauhaus set sentencing for May 7.

The Court of Judicial Conduct's case could result in penalties, from reprimand to removal and a ban from holding public office. That court can act independent of the criminal case, Oliver said.

Grell and Sabatina say the House has “constitutional oversight responsibility regarding the judiciary.” Grell has said lawmakers must be ready in case Melvin appeals her conviction and that freezes other procedures.

The last impeachment occurred in 1994 when lawmakers removed former Supreme Court Justice Rolf Larsen after a Senate trial that found Larsen violated judicial standards on one of seven counts against him. The charge leading to his removal was improperly interfering with another judge's handling of a case.

Brad Bumsted is state Capitol reporter for Trib Total Media. He can be reached at 717-787-1405 and bbumsted@tribweb.com.

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