Pennsylvania Gov. Tom Corbett is looking for a new secretary to lead the Department of Environmental Protection (DEP), but in a strange twist the outgoing secretary, Michael Krancer, is reportedly on a short list of names to replace a state Supreme Court justice who resigned Monday after being convicted on corruption charges.
Allegheny County Republican Committee Chairman Jim Roddey told NGI's Shale Daily that he has heard three names mentioned as possible appointments to the high court: Krancer, former state Attorney General Linda Kelly, and Corbett's chief of staff, Steve Aichele.
"I don't have any proprietary information, other than I heard two or three names and he was one of those," Roddey said Wednesday. Asked if he thought Krancer would be interested, Roddey said he wasn't sure. "He is available, and he has been on a court before," he said. "Since he ran for the Supreme Court, I would assume that he would have an interest. But I haven't had a chance to talk with him about it."
Any appointment would affect the balance of power at the state's high court, which is currently considering a legal challenge to Act 13, the state's omnibus Marcellus Shale law.
The six judges still on the high court -- three Democrats and three Republicans -- are trying to decide whether to uphold or overturn an appellate court ruling that found portions of Act 13 unconstitutional on the grounds that its limits on local zoning violate municipalities' right to substantive due process (see Shale Daily, July 27, 2012). A ruling is not expected before June at the earliest (Robinson Township et al v. Commonwealth et al, No. 284-MD-2012).
"He would have to recuse himself, if he was on the court, from that issue," Roddey said of Krancer.
On Feb. 21, a jury in Allegheny County Common Pleas Court convicted Pennsylvania Supreme Court Justice Joan Orie Melvin and her sister, Janine Orie, of six counts of corruption, including conspiracy, theft of services and misapplication of government funds. Orie Melvin, a Republican, announced Monday that she would resign from the bench effective May 1.
"I believe the decision by Justice Orie Melvin to resign is the correct one," Corbett said Monday after accepting the resignation. "This will save taxpayers the time and expense of impeachment proceedings in the House and Senate, and allow legislators to focus on other important issues."
The governor has 90 days from May 1 to submit a nominee to fill the vacancy. The nominee would need a two-thirds supporting vote in the Senate for confirmation, and would serve Orie Melvin's unexpired term until Jan. 5, 2016. A successor would be elected in his or her own right in November 2015.
"I will submit a nominee to the Senate as soon as practical within that time frame to bring our Supreme Court back to its full complement of seven justices," Corbett said.
Krancer made an unsuccessful run for a state Supreme Court seat in 2007. He served as a judge on the state's Environmental Hearing Board under former Govs. Tom Ridge and Ed Rendell before being tapped by Corbett to lead the DEP shortly after his election as governor in 2010 (see Shale Daily, Jan. 13, 2011).
Meanwhile Eric Shirk, a spokesman for the governor, told NGI's Shale Daily that the process for replacing Krancer at DEP was continuing. Krancer's last day is April 15.
"They're putting together a list right now," Shirk said Wednesday. "They're looking hard, and they're looking on getting this done. But I wouldn't put a timeline on it. Obviously they're looking for someone who we believe will run the DEP well and stick with the governor's core mission."
Corbett announced Friday that Krancer was leaving the DEP to return to practice law in Philadelphia (see Shale Daily, March 25). The governor tapped his deputy chief of staff, E. Christopher Abruzzo, to serve as acting DEP secretary until a permanent replacement is named.
The governor took a tour of Lycoming County Airport on Tuesday to see how a $13.6 million renovation project was progressing. He also visited two new housing projects in Williamsport.
"Just over a year ago, I signed Act 13 into law and the results are clear: every Pennsylvanian is benefiting from Marcellus Shale development," Corbett said. "Natural gas means jobs, cleaner air and a secure energy portfolio. Pennsylvania is showing the world how it's done, and Lycoming County has fast become an energy hub in the northeastern United States."