Newly-minted State Supreme Court Justice Correale Stevens has a long record of public service that has routinely gone beyond the call of any office he held. Luzerne County in general and his native Hazleton Area in particular can take pride in his rise to the highest court in the state. He was sworn in Tuesday.
Stevens has worked for more than three decades in four different positions and avoided any scent of scandal or favoritism. Barring some deeply hidden closet skeleton, the 66-year-old jurist should prove a strong antidote for the poisoning of public trust created by the justice he replaces.
That would be Joan Orie Melvin, who resigned after being convicted of using government employees to help her political campaign.
Stevens started out serving eight years representing the Hazleton area in the State House before winning election as Luzerne County District Attorney in 1988. He moved up to judge three years later and to state superior court in 1998, where his 15 fellow jurists unanimously choose him as president judge in 2011.
The superior court typically convenes in three-judge panels in Harrisburg, Philadelphia or Pittsburgh, gathering twice a year en banc with nine judges present. When he became president judge, Stevens voiced a hope he could bring an en banc meeting to Luzerne County someday.
He succeeded, not only convening here, but doing so in historic fashion by graveling the session in an auditorium at MMI Preparatory School, his son’s alma mater. It was the first time Superior Court held session in a high school in the state’s history.
It epitomized Stevens’ oft-stated credo of public transparency. He has always exhibited a persona that put people first in fulfilling public office. As he said in remarks during his swearing-in ceremony, judges who rule along party lines “Do a disservice to all the judiciary in Pennsylvania.”
During his comments, Stevens demonstrated another hallmark of his public service: An effort to put the emphasis on a person’s total work in office.
“Please do not judge me during this time of my appointment on any one particular decision,” he told the crowd. “At the end of two and a half years, if you can look back and you can say he was diligent, he was fair, he was impartial, then I have earned your respect and the people of Pennsylvania have been properly served.”
Knowing his record, it’s safe to assume that is exactly what most people will say.