Two State Supreme Court Judges Convicted of Felonies
In just the last two months, two wealthy state supreme court justices—Joan Orie Melvin of Pennsylvania and Diane Hathaway of Michigan—have been convicted of felonies involving fraud or deception of some kind. Although neither has been sentenced, both face possible prison time, fines, and certain disbarment.
Just the second Pennsylvania Supreme Court justice to be convicted in almost three centuries, Justice Melvin was found guilty of six counts of corruption—including theft of services, criminal conspiracy, and misappropriation of state property—on February 21 for using government employees to work on her 2003 and 2009 campaigns for Supreme Court justice, which is an elected position in Pennsylvania.
A conservative Catholic Republican, Justice Melvin upheld family values by involving her sisters in her criminal conspiracy. One of them, Janine Orie, was also convicted in the scheme, while another, former state Sen. Jane Orie, (R-Allegheny County), was charged but not tried, as she is currently serving 2 1/2 to 10 years in prison for illegally using her staff to work on her own campaigns, having been found guilty of 14 counts of forgery, conflict of interest and theft of services.
Pennsylvania Bar Association president Thomas Wilkinson said the “verdict represents a sad chapter in the history of Pennsylvania’s justice system” and underscores the Bar’s position that justices should be appointed rather than elected.
Although the theft of services charges carry up to seven years in prison each, Melvin’s clean record, and the fact she is white, wealthy, and from a prominent political family, means she is likely to receive little or no prison time. At present, she remains suspended without pay. Pennsylvania’s Judicial Conduct Board has disciplinary charges pending against her, and state legislators have drafted articles of impeachment, which would be unnecessary if Melvin resigned.
If Melvin resigns or is removed from office, Gov. Tom Corbett (R) would have 90 days to appoint a replacement, whose nomination would require a two-thirds vote of the state Senate.
Meanwhile in Michigan, Justice Diane Hathaway pleaded guilty to bank fraud on January 29 for transferring properties out of her name and pretending she was in financial distress so she could qualify for a short sale on a home and avoid paying $600,000 she owed her bank, ING Direct. In a short sale, a bank permits a property owner to sell a property for less than the balance owed on the mortgage. The original mortgage was $1.4 million but Hathaway’s home sold for only $850,000.
The daughter of a Detroit police officer, Hathaway had a harder climb than Pennsylvania’s Melvin. Hathaway started out as an x-ray technician, obtained a real estate broker’s license and worked in both fields while raising her children and attending college, earning a law degree in 1987. She served as a state trial judge in Detroit from 1992 to 2009, when she was elevated to Michigan Supreme Court justice.
Hathaway will be sentenced on May 28, and while she could get up to 18 months in prison, will likely get probation, a fine and/or restitution. Having resigned from the Supreme Court on January 21, Hathaway can also expect to face disbarment proceedings, as well as a challenge to her real estate license.
One silver lining for Hathaway: As part of the plea agreement, the government will drop a civil case and not try to seize the $740,000 water-front Florida home that Hathaway pretended not to own.
To Learn More:
Pa. Supreme Court Justice Convicted of Corruption (by Joe Mandak, Philadelphia Inquirer)
Measure Drafted for Impeachment of Judge (by Joe Mandak and Peter Jackson, Philadelphia Inquirer)
Judge Diane Hathaway's Lawyer on Her Bank Fraud: 'It was Dumb' (by Allan Lengel, Deadline Detroit)
Former Michigan Supreme Court Justice Diane Hathaway Pleads Guilty to Felony Bank Fraud (by Tammy Stables Battaglia, Detroit Free Press)
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