Some people have complaints about the Justices of the Supreme Court of New Jersey, though our Court in fact remains at or near the top of all state Supreme Courts in the United States. But to see a state Supreme Court that is truly an embarrassment, one need look no further than across the Delaware River, to Pennsylvania. Last year, Supreme Court of Pennsylvania Justice Joan Orie Melvin resigned her seat after being convicted of multiple counts of theft of services, conspiracy, and misappropriating state property. Justice Orie Melvin had wrongly used state employees in her campaigns for election to the Supreme Court. Her conviction was affirmed on appeal on August 21, 2014.
More recently, Seamus McCaffrey, another Justice of the Supreme Court of Pennsylvania, has become embroiled in a different scandal. It was revealed this week that Justice McCaffrey had sent or received at least 230 sexually explicit e-mails, some of which were sent to the state e-mail accounts of government employees. As reported here, Chief Justice Castille has urged the Justices to take action against Justice McCaffrey for that misconduct.
This recent spate of questionable (or worse) conduct by Justices of the Supreme Court of Pennsylvania is not the first time that members of that Court have dishonored that tribunal. In the 1990’s, Justice Rolf Larsen was convicted of criminal conspiracy in connection with his improper procurement of prescription drugs. As a result, he was removed from the Supreme Court. Justice Larsen also was impeached by the Pennsylvania House of Representatives and found guilty by the Pennsylvania Senate of engaging in improper ex parte communications regarding a matter that had been before the Supreme Court.
The whole sordid story of Justice Larsen is recounted in In re Appeal of Rolf Larsen, 517 Pa. 457, 812 A.2d 640 (Special Tribunal 2002). As is described in that opinion, and elsewhere, when the charge of improper ex parte communications by Justice Larsen surfaced, he responded by filing charges accusing other Supreme Court of Pennsylvania Justices of similar and other misconduct. Justice Larsen’s accusations were later found to be baseless, but the whole episode damaged the stature of the Supreme Court. Ironically, given the timing of the recent events with Justices Orie Melvin and McCaffrey, Justice Larsen died in August 2014.