The Orie clan is still claiming that a "political vendetta" by Allegheny County DA Stephen Zappala is behind the latest charges against Supreme Court Justice Joan Orie Melvin. (Read "Navigating the Courthouse" from July 2010 for a primer.) The latest is in a motion filed with the Judicial Conduct Board pushing one member of the board to recuse himself from its investigation of the justice, claiming he had family and business ties to the DA.
Rich Lord writes the board member did recuse himself but of course the board still charged her before the Court of Judicial Discipline, hours after a county grand jury indicted her.
Her attorney, though, wrote in a legal filing that the charges against Justice Melvin reflected a "political vendetta" by the district attorney. The accusation was included in a motion filed April 30 with the Judicial Conduct Board in which the justice's attorney sought the recusal of one board member.
"Justice Orie Melvin has always maintained that this prosecution emanates from a political vendetta due to her vocal opposition to the juvenile detention facilities owned by the district attorney's brother, Gregory Zappala," the motion said. Justice Melvin's attorney, William I. Arbuckle, wrote that the justice believes that the district attorney's office "has utilized its prosecutorial powers against the Orie and Melvin family due to the extensive, pervasive, financial and direct interests of the Zappala family," which Justice Melvin and her sister, state Sen. Jane Orie, have periodically threatened.
Mr. Zappala on Monday called the motion "defamatory and actionable. And I'm trying to give this person a fair trial."
So what are these supposed ties between the DA and a conduct board member?
The recusal effort focused on Philip Ripepi, a West Mifflin physician who is a Republican, appointed by Gov. Ed Rendell to the board in 2010. The April 30 motion seeking his recusal traced a series of marriages and included as exhibits newspaper articles going back to 1948, in an effort to show that Dr. Ripepi was a relative of Mr. Zappala, and that his family members have been represented by relatives of the district attorney.
"I'm not related to Dr. Ripepi," Mr. Zappala said.
The doctor could not be reached for comment.
The board's chief counsel, Joseph A. Massa, Jr., also could not be reached.
The recusal motion went on to detail what has been a centerpiece of the Orie families' defense so far. It said the justice criticized the involvement of former Supreme Court Justice Stephen A. Zappala Sr. in the Pennsylvania Casino Association, and the court system's initial handling of accusations that two Luzerne County judges took bribes to send adjudicated minors to centers co-owned by Greg Zappala, the district attorney's brother. Greg Zappala has never been charged or accused of any wrongdoing in relation to the centers, PA Child Care in Luzerene County and Western PA Child Care in Butler County.
Justice Melvin was one of numerous critics of the Judicial Conduct Board's failure to investigate the Luzerne County judges. Ex-board members have defended the board's handling of the matter.