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Costa forms a wish list for state Supreme Court nominee

| Friday, May 10, 2013, 12:01 a.m.

HARRISBURG — Senate Democrats would consider a Pennsylvania Supreme Court nominee from Republican Gov. Tom Corbett who is “nonpartisan and non-ideological” and vows not to seek election to the seat in 2016, said Senate Minority Leader Jay Costa.

“We would like to see a person who would render decisions based upon the law,” Costa, D-Forest Hills, told the Tribune-Review.

Corbett's spokesman Kevin Harley said the governor is considering “men and women he feels would be qualified,” though he would not provide names of potential candidates.

“He'll be very deliberative in this process,” Harley said.

Corbett needs seven Democratic votes in the Republican-controlled Senate to meet the two-thirds minimum vote required to confirm a justice to replace Joan Orie Melvin, a Marshall Republican who resigned May 1. A jury found her guilty on campaign corruption charges. She began a three-year sentence of house arrest on Tuesday.

Corbett's appointee would fill the remainder of Melvin's term through January 2016.

The governor's needing two-thirds of senators for confirmation could give Costa leverage on the state budget and other issues lawmakers might decide by June 30.

The Democrats' priorities are to expand Medicaid under Obamacare, which Corbett has resisted, and a transportation funding plan, Costa said.

Corbett urges passage of a bill to repair highways, bridges and fund transit.

It's too soon to say whether other issues might mix with a court nomination, said Andrew Crompton, lawyer and chief of staff for Senate President Pro Tempore Joe Scarnati, R-Jefferson County.

“I think it depends who (Corbett) selects,” Crompton said, noting that nominating someone considered “moderate” could minimize the Democrats' influence.

Corbett has not ruled out picking a Democrat, Harley said.

Yet that appears unlikely. The court's makeup is three Republicans and three Democrats.

“I'd love for him to name a Democrat,” Costa said, “but I recognize this is a Republican administration we're talking about.”

Corbett has 90 days from Melvin's May 1 resignation to nominate her replacement. The Senate has 25 legislative days to consider a nominee. If that time period expires, the governor can resubmit that name or another.

The longer it goes, the more likely it becomes that Supreme Court Chief Justice Ronald Castille would pick a temporary replacement, said G. Terry Madonna, a political science professor at Franklin & Marshall College.

As reporters and columnists speculate about dozens of jurists and prominent attorneys who could be candidates, the Corbett administration remains tight-lipped.

Republican officials say potential nominees have included former Attorney General Linda Kelly, whom the Senate confirmed in 2010; Steve Aichele, Corbett's chief of staff, who is spearheading the search; and Corbett's longtime friend, Allegheny County Judge Jeffrey Manning, though Manning is a Democrat and not popular with Republicans because he presided over the trial of Melvin's sister, ex-Sen. Jane Orie, R-McCandless, who is in prison for using public resources for campaigns.

While Aichele and Manning are not likely picks, Kelly is said to still be in the running.

Other possibilities: Mc-Kean County Senior Judge John Cleland, who presided over the kids-for-cash case in Luzerne County and the Jerry Sandusky sex abuse case; former Senate Republican Chief Counsel Stephen MacNett; Republican attorney William Sasso, chairman of the management committee of Philadelphia-based Stradley, Ronon, Stevens and Young; Dauphin County Judge Richard Lewis; Superior Court Judge Maureen Lally-Green; Senior Superior Court Judge James Fitzgerald; and Senior Judge Barry Feudale of Commonwealth Court.

Other Republicans say that Pittsburgh attorney Ralph Finizio, a partner with Pepper Hamilton LLP, and Superior Court Judge Judith Olson, a former Allegheny County judge, should be considered.

Brad Bumsted is Trib Total Media's state Capitol reporter. Reach him at 717-787-1405 or bbumsted@tribweb.com.

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