When Correale Stevens was sworn in as a Superior Court judge 16 years ago, he held the ceremony in a Luzerne County senior center and brought a judicial colleague and two friends along.
“We ate sandwiches and played bingo afterward,” said Stevens, 66, of Luzerne County, who will be sworn in as a state Supreme Court justice on Tuesday in a more formal affair.
More than 40 federal, state and local judges are expected to attend the ceremony in the rotunda of the Luzerne County Courthouse.
Stevens is replacing Joan Orie Melvin, 57, of Marshall, who resigned in May after becoming only the second sitting justice in the history of the nation’s oldest appellate court to be convicted of a crime. Rolf Larsen, convicted of prescription fraud in 1994, is the other.
Allegheny County Common Pleas Judge Lester G. Nauhaus sentenced Melvin to three years of house arrest and two years of probation for her conviction on corruption charges. Nauhaus ordered her to send a photo of herself in handcuffs with an apology to every member of the state’s judiciary.
“Given the turmoil that has led up to this vacancy, the appointment really calls for stability and a sense of calmness,” said Ken Gormley, dean of Duquesne University’s School of Law. “I think adding Justice Stevens to the court really achieves that.”
Gormley and former judicial colleagues tout Stevens’ diverse background. Before becoming a Superior Court judge in 1997 and its president judge in 2011, Stevens served as a Republican state legislator for eight years, a Luzerne County’s district attorney and a Common Pleas judge.
“He brings an awful lot to the position,” said retired Superior Court President Joseph A. Del Sole, who sat on the bench from 1984 to 2006.
Gov. Tom Corbett appointed Stevens to the post. The Senate confirmed him last month in a 50-0 vote, giving the seven-member bench four GOP members.
Stevens said he learned of his confirmation moments after getting married last month. Stevens said he turned off his cellphone after it began vibrating continually during the ceremony, with senators calling to share the news. He got the details after exchanging vows with his wife.
“It was a good day,” Stevens said.
Stevens said he is “ready to get to work,” noting he’s been told he’ll have a stack of about 70 petitions for appeal waiting for him.
“I’m not going to be a seat-warmer or someone who is there just to bide my time on the court and retire,” said Stevens, who will serve until January 2016, when a new justice elected in the previous November’s election takes office. “I have a good relationship with the six sitting justices. I hope to use those relationships and my varied background to try to seek a consensus without giving up principle.”
Tom Fontaine is a staff writer for Trib Total Media. He can be reached at 412-320-7847 or [email protected].