PHILADELPHIANS may be tempted to breathe a sign of relief to hear that the next likely jail-bound state legislator is not one of our own, but from the other side of the state.
Monday, less than a week after a judge sentenced Philadelphia state Rep. John Perzel to jail, a jury convicted Pittsburgh-area state Sen. Jane Orie of 14 counts related to her use of legislative staff to work on her campaigns. Among the counts are five felony charges. The jury acquitted Orie of the charges related to her office working on the campaign of her sister, state Supreme Court Justice Joan Orie Melvin. But Melvin still faces a grand jury investigation of her own, and a third Orie sister, Janine, faces charges related to campaign work for both her sisters.
(And while we Philadelphians pride ourselves on convoluted political and familial dynasties, consider the Orie case: Orie has contended that the investigation is a political vendetta originating with Allegheny County District Attorney Stephen Zappala, Jr., whose father was a former state Supreme Court justice, and whose brother, Gregory, co-owned detention centers that Luzerne County judges sent juveniles to in exchange for kickbacks in the "kids for cash" scandal- though Gregory Zappala was never named in any suit, and only his former partner faced charges.)
And we thought that squirmy feeling came only when contemplating the tangled branches of our own nest.
But the issue here is not self-satisfaction over western Pennsylvania lawmakers' wrongdoing; the issue is that a Supreme Court justice still sits on the bench under a cloud. We've come to expect clouds to hover over the state House and its campaign machinations, but the state's highest court is damaged by even the smallest cloud . . . and this one isn't small.
Justice Orie has recused herself from hearing criminal cases from Allegheny County, but that's not enough. She should step down or take a leave of absence while these matters are still pending. If she doesn't, Chief Justice Ron Castille should use his powers and move toward suspending her. The highest court in the state can't afford the kind of prolonged and spreading stain that compromises its perceived integrity.
Of course both Castille and the rest of us know that the courts are never quite clear of clouds as long as members of the bench have to enter the fray of politics, fundraising and campaigining to get their jobs.
Considering the Luzerne County case, and numerous cases of judicial misbehavior around the state, the movement to have judges appointed instead of elected keeps stacking up evidence that it's high time.