Gavel Grab

Archive for the 'Judicial misconduct' Category

Convicted Judge Hasn't Apologized, and It's an Issue Now

When ex-Justice Joan Orie Melvin (photo) of the Pennsylvania Supreme Court was sentenced on public corruption counts in May, she was ordered to write apologies to her fellow former jurists. But Orie Melvin has challenged that order on legal grounds, and it has become a point of contention.

According to the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette, Orie Melvin contends she is innocent and writing the apologies would violate her privilege against self-incrimination.  But the prosecutor in the case disagrees and says that if the apology directive is stayed pending her appeal, her entire sentence and the absence of any prison term must be reconsidered.

In a filing with the state Superior Court, deputy district attorney Michael W. Streily said, “It will be the commonwealth’s position herein that if this court stays the apology letter, then [the trial judge] should be given the opportunity to stay the entire sentence, should he choose to do so, because it may be that without the rehabilitative benefit of an apology letter, appellant can only be rehabilitated by incarceration in a state prison.” Read more

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Elected Pennsylvania Judge is Barred From Bench for Life

The Pennsylvania Court of Judicial Discipline barred Court of Common Pleas Judge Thomas Nocella of Philadelphia from ever serving again on the bench. It found he committed judicial ethics violations by making misrepresentations to a bar association when he was a candidate and through past involvement with a political action committee.

Nocella was an elected judge. Lynn Marks, executive director of Pennsylvanians for Modern Courts, found his sentence fair, according to a Pennsylvania Independent article.

“Removing Nocella from the bench and barring him from future judicial service sends an important message to the public and to the judiciary that the judicial discipline system ensures that our judges are held to the highest standards,” she said. “It also warns would-be judges that not only should they never lie about their qualifications during a campaign, but that there are serious consequences, including removal, for lying one’s way to the bench.” Read more

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Another Final Order in Cebull Case, and it is Not Public, Yet

There is a new final order in the investigation into the conduct of then-U.S. District Court Judge Richard Cebull of Montana, who forwarded a racist and sexist email about President Obama from his courthouse computer (see Gavel Grab) and who retired in May. Like a previous order in the matter, this one is not public, but it may be made public later.

The Judicial Council of the Ninth U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals met June 28, and Chief Judge Alex Kozinski subsequently announced a new order issued in the complaint, according to a Great Falls Tribune article. “If no appeal of the order is made, the order will be made public after the 63 days is up,” the newspaper reported.

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Some Question Return of Elected, Ticket-Fixing Judge to Bench

The return to the bench of a local Pennsylvania judge, who pleaded guilty in connection with the fixing of her own traffic tickets, has drawn questioning in some quarters.

The Pennsylvania Court of Judicial Discipline ruled that Lancaster District Judge Kelly S. Ballentine would be allowed to return to the bench after 16 months of suspension. The state Board of Judicial Conduct had petitioned the discipline court to permanently remove Judge Ballentine from her position (see Gavel Grab).

“It gives new meaning to the concept of justice being blind,” said a Lancaster New Era opinion.

“The actions of Judge Ballentine are unacceptable. Although we appreciate that she took responsibility for her actions, judges should be held to a higher standard because they sit in judgment of others,” said Lynn Marks, executive director of Pennsylvanians for Modern Courts, a  court-reform organization and JAS partner group. A Lancaster Online article reported her views. Read more

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Michigan Ex-Justice Sentenced to Prison Time for Bank Fraud

Former Michigan Supreme Court Justice Diane Hathaway was sentenced on Tuesday to 366 days in prison. She had pleaded guilty earlier to committing bank fraud by concealing holdings in the short sale of a home.

“I stand before you a broken person,” she told U.S. District Judge John Corbett O’Meara. “I am ashamed, embarrassed, humiliated and disgraced,” she said, according to an Associated Press report.

“We do not ask you to sentence Diane Hathaway based on who she is,”  Assistant U.S. Attorney Dan Lemisch told the court. “We ask you to sentence Diane Hathaway based on what she did.”

Her defense attorney, Steve Fishman, had argued that losing her prominent job was severe enough punishment for Hathaway. The former judge is depicted above, with her husband, in an Associated Press photo taken Jan. 29.

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Pa. Justice Orie Melvin Resentenced in Hearing Tuesday

After she was sentenced last week to serve three years’ house arrest, former Pennsylvania Supreme Court Justice Joan Orie Melvin went to a resentencing hearing this week so the judge could fix a potential technical error.

According to the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette, Allegheny County Judge Lester Nauhaus made sure to state that Melvin is ordered to serve three, one-year terms of house arrest consecutively, instead of one, three-year period.

Melvin will also have to pay roughly $128,000 from her pension fund to cover fines and legal fees. The article says part of the money from her pension will go to her sister, Janine Orie, who was also convicted on corruption charges. Read more

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Still Secret: Findings of Investigation About Judge's Email

The findings of an investigation into the conduct of then-Judge Richard Cebull, who forwarded a racist and sexist email about President Obama from his courthouse computer (see Gavel Grab) and who retired this month, remain secret.

An Associated Press article said a Judicial Council order issued in the investigation on March 15 is moot, given the U.S. District judge’s retirement on May 3, according to a new order by the Ninth U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals.

The Judicial Council has released neither the order nor the findings of its investigation. When the the Judicial Council meets June 28, it will consider revisions to the order and the memorandum, and it was uncertain whether they would ultimately be made public, the AP said.

Judge Cebull sat in Montana. He apologized to the president after the email was made public.

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Resentencing Hearing Set for PA Ex-Justice

The judge who sentenced ex-Justice Joan Orie Melvin of the Pennsylvania Supreme Court this week has set a resentencing hearing for Tuesday, but he signaled it will deal only with a legal technicality.

Common Pleas Court Judge Lester Nauhaus said he will sentence Orie Melvin to three consecutive one-year terms of house arrest, as opposed to three years of house arrest, the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette reported. “There is absolutely no difference in those sentences,” he said. “It is absolutely form over substance.”

The ex-justice was convicted of corruption in the conduct of her two campaigns for the high court. This week, her sentence included an order  to have her photograph taken in handcuffs, and sign copies with apologies to all her former fellow judges. There was controversy over her sentencing (see Gavel Grab).

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Controversy Erupts Over Sentencing of PA Ex-Justice

A judge’s order that convicted ex-Justice Joan Orie Melvin of Pennsylvania write an apology to all of her former fellow state jurists, with a photograph of her in handcuffs (see Gavel Grab), is sparking controversy.

A Pittsburgh Post-Gazette article was headlined, “Experts say judge’s ‘shaming’ order for Orie Melvin may not be enforceable/Legal experts raise constitutional issues.”

Despite her conviction on corruption counts, Orie Melvin proclaims her innocence. Law professor Jules Epstein of Wilder University said, “Even when you are convicted of a crime, you retain your Fifth Amendment protection against self-incrimination. You can’t be punished for refusing to exercise it.”

In the Pittsburgh Tribune-Review, columnist Eric Heyl mocked those who consider the sentencing too harsh — Orie Melvin also was sentenced to three years in house arrest, and a $55,000 fine — in a commentary entitled, “Wow, judge! Show mercy on Melvin.” Read more

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Ex-Justice Melvin Sentenced to Three Years of House Arrest

Former Pennsylvania Supreme Court Justice Joan Orie Melvin, convicted by a jury of criminal corruption in connection with two Supreme Court campaigns, was sentenced on Tuesday to three years of house arrest and two years of probation.

In addition, ex-Justice Melvin was fined $55,000 by Common Pleas Judge Lester G. Nauhaus for the illegal use of her state workers during the campaigns, according to a Pittsburgh Tribune-Review article.

“I don’t believe that Joan Melvin is an evil person but I do believe that her arrogance is stunning,” Judge Nauhaus said, according to a Pittsburgh Post-Gazette report. As part of his sentencing Melvin, he ordered that she send handwritten apologies to all judges in the state.

The former judge’s sister, Janine Orie, was sentenced to a year of house arrest and two years of probation for her convictions in the case. She worked on Melvin’s staff.

The jurist’s conviction by a jury over campaign corruption has sparked high-profile calls for Pennsylvania to switch to a merit-based selection system for picking judges, an option endorsed recently by four former Pennsylvania governors (see Gavel Grab). Justice at Stake, meanwhile, said merit selection has a “real chance” of winning support in Pennsylvania.

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