In Pa., another try for merit selection of judges

    Plans to select judges based on merit rather than partisan elections in Pennsylvania have come and gone with little action.

    This year a reform proposal comes as a state Supreme Court justice goes on trial.

    Suspended Supreme Court Justice Joan Orie Melvin is pleading not guilty to charges she used her Superior Court staff to help with two campaigns for her seat on the state’s highest court.

    Lynn Marks, with the reform group Pennsylvanians for Modern Courts, says the alleged crime is an example of the kind of corruption that comes of using partisan elections to choose all state judges — something only five other states do.

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    “We’re there with Alabama, Louisiana, Texas, West Virignia and Illinois,” she said Thursday. “It’s just not a minority that we should be proud of. So many other states have realized that you’ve just got to get money out of judicial elections.”

    A state Senate proposal aims to select appellate judges based on merit instead.

    An appointed commission would select candidates, the governor would make a nomination, and the state Senate would confirm, according to the proposal. Regular retention elections would follow.

    Enacting it would require amending the state Constitution — a heavy lift, especially for a proposal that didn’t make it out of a House committee last year.

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