By Alex Roarty
PoliticsPA Staff Writer
HARRISBURG – The state’s Supreme Court candidates have slipped brass knuckles over their political fists eight days before the election.
Republican nominee Joan Orie Melvin threw the first punch Monday. Her opponent, Democratic nominee Jack Panella, has accepted large campaign contributions from the Philadelphia Trial Lawyers Association, she said, the kind of large donation that should lead voters to ask if he can impartially dispense justice.
“The public’s perception is it is pay-to-play, or justice for sale,” Orie Melvin said during the monthly Pennsylvania Press Club Luncheon.
She suggested if Panella wins, the court should force him to recuse himself from any case involving the association. But Orie Melvin would not say whether she personally thought the campaign donations were an example of “pay-to-play.”
“I don’t know, but it sure sound suspect,” she said.
Panella spokesman Dan Fee, when reached by PoliticsPA, fired back that Orie Melvin applies one standard to others and another to herself.
She’s received a huge donation from Senate Republican leadership, Fee said.
“If she’s saying large contributions skew your sense of right and wrong, what’s she going to do with a case that involves the state Senate?” he asked.
The spokesman added that Orie Melvin solicited donations from the Trial Lawyers Association just as Panella did. She received a $100,000 contribution.
The election between Panella and Orie Melvin will determine the Supreme Court’s ideological tilt – the court is evenly split among Democrats and Republicans, 3-3. Whichever party controls the court could eventually control legislative redistricting after the 2010 census.
Panella has voiced support for a judicial-appointments process, similar to how federal judges are selected. Orie Melvin said merit-based selection has been discussed for decades without progress, which is why she supports a new rule that bars judges from ruling on cases that involve large campaign contributors.
Analysts differ on whether next week’s election, the first statewide election since last year, is a legitimate political indicator for 2010.