Pennsylvania judge corruption conviction leads to delay in gas drilling ruling

Pa. judge conviction leads to delay in gas drilling ruling by Amanda Cregan, April 24, 2013,
The corruption conviction of Justice Joan Orie Melvin and her ensuing resignation from Pennsylvania’s Supreme Court might have caused a delay in the Act 13 decision, according to attorney Jordan Yeager. In March 2012, Nockamixon, Yardley and the Delaware Riverkeeper Network teamed up with several Western Pennsylvania communities to file a lawsuit against Pennsylvania’s Marcellus Shale gas drilling law, claiming it strips away the constitutional rights of citizens and local municipalities.In July 2012, the Commonwealth Court declared the municipal pre-emption provisions of Act 13 null, void and unenforceable, and the case proceeded to Pennsylvania Supreme Court on appeal. In October 2012, the panel of seven justices heard oral arguments from both sides. Though the high court does not have a timeline as to when it must render a decision, attorneys anticipated a ruling by January. They are still awaiting a decision. At Nockamixon’s board of supervisors meeting last week, township solicitor Yeager told the board that the Act 13 case is believed to be among a handful of cases that is lingering in a 3-3 split decision among the remaining six justices. “A 3-3 decision for us is a victory because the issuance of the Commonwealth Court stands,” he said. According to recent press reports, the justices continue to work on these 3-3 decisions to see if any of them will change their vote, said Yeager.

In the coming months, the state’s top court could render a split decision, it could continue to work toward a majority decision or it could wait for a seventh justice to be appointed, who would weigh in on the Act 13 case. “We really don’t know. We’re reading the tea leaves,” said Yeager. “Bottom line is that we don’t have a decision, and we don’t know when we will.” Justice Orie Melvin was found guilty and will be sentenced for misusing state-paid judicial staff and the staffers of her sister, former state Sen. Jane Orie, to do campaign work. The justice plans to appeal her conviction, according to the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette. [Emphasis added]

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