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 last Monday after being convicted on corruption charges.

Allegheny County Republican Committee Chairman Jim Roddey told NGI 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.

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 NGI, July 30, 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 on March 25 that she would resign from the bench effective May 1.

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. 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 NGI, Jan. 17, 2011).

Meanwhile Eric Shirk, a spokesman for the governor, told NGI 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. “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 late last month that Krancer was leaving the DEP to return to practice law in Philadelphia (see NGI, 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.

©Copyright 2013Intelligence Press Inc. All rights reserved. The preceding news reportmay not be republished or redistributed, in whole or in part, in anyform, without prior written consent of Intelligence Press, Inc.