Pa. lawmaker ready to impeach Supreme Court justice

The resolution has been drafted.

Representative Glen Grell (R-Cumberland) will move toward impeaching Supreme Court Justice Joan Orie Melvin if she doesn't resign following convictions for campaign violations in Pittsburgh last week.

Grell hopes his hand isn't forced and there are three alternatives that would make impeachment unnecessary:

– Orie could resign;

– The judge who sentences Melvin in May could remove her from the bench; or

– The Judicial Conduct Board could force her out.

Grell would prefer one of the first three to occur. But if not, he'll be ready.

“There's a hole in the Supreme Court of Pennsylvania that ought to be filled, and we have a sitting justice that was just convicted of crimes that should disqualify her from the bench,” he said.

Impeachment would be historic and it is quite a ritual. The Senate chamber becomes a courtroom. Members of the House become prosecutors. Senators become judge and jury and they render a verdict. It's takes a two-thirds vote of the Senate to convict. We're told it's only happened once since the 1800's.

In 1994, Allegheny County Justice Rolf Larsen, a Democrat, was impeached and convicted by the Senate for improper communication with a trial judge. He was removed from office and barred from running for life.

Jeff Piccola, then a member of the House, was one of the prosecutors.

“I think we did a service for the commonwealth,” Piccola said Friday, “not only in getting a corrupt justice out of office, but to set up a system and a template that future generations can use if the same kind of things arise.”

Barely a generation removed from Larsen, that template might be needed.

“It's a sad situation,” Grell said. “Certainly for the justice, but for the court and the commonwealth.”

There are also political ramifications. Melvin, a Republican, was the tie-breaking vote on the high court. It is currently deadlocked at three Democrats and three Republicans.

It seems inevitable that she will ultimately be removed from the Supreme Court. When that happens, the governor will appoint a replacement that must then be confirmed by the Senate.

Melvin is currently suspended without pay.

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