Melvin exit can’t be too soon

It’s good that a state Supreme Court justice convicted of using taxpayer-paid staff for political campaigns will spare Pennsylvanians the hassle of a virtually certain impeachment.

Justice Joan Orie Melvin told Gov. Tom Corbett on Monday that she is stepping down from the bench on May 1. The only disappointment is by waiting until May to step down, Melvin is leaving the state’s top court shorthanded for a longer period of time.

Melvin was convicted in February of six charges including criminal conspiracy, misappropriation of state property and several counts of theft of services.

Melvin’s sister, Janine Orie, who worked as a Supreme Court aide, also was convicted by the same jury of the same charges for her role in using state workers for political campaigns as well as evidence tampering.

Melvin plans to appeal her conviction following her sentencing on May 7.

Earlier this month, 42 members of the state House of Representatives, including the Republican and Democratic chairmen of the House Judiciary Committee, called for an investigation into whether Melvin, a Republican, should be impeached. That investigation would be the first step of the impeachment process.

Melvin has been suspended without pay since August so it’s difficult to see how she benefits by waiting until May 1 to leave the court.

And with the court currently divided with three Republicans and three Democrats, the lack of a seventh justice has resulted in some tie votes.

State Supreme Court Chief Justice Ron Castille told reporters this week, “It’s difficult to function with just six justices. A 3-3 decision is kind of meaningless. It tells you what the three people think on one side and what three people think on the other side. It doesn’t set any precedent. It doesn’t give any guidance to the lawyers, it doesn’t give any guidance to individuals who want to come before us.”

Efforts to replace Melvin cannot officially start until her resignation takes effect.

It’s not certain how selecting a replacement will work. Corbett could nominate someone, who would have to be approved by a two-thirds vote in the Senate, which means the governor’s nominee would need some Democratic votes.

Another possibility is the six Supreme Court justices could appoint a senior justice to fill the spot until a new justice is elected in the fall of 2015.

However a replacement is chosen, the Supreme Court will be better by being separated from the taint of Melvin’s illegal actions.

Her departure from the court can’t come soon enough.