Testimony focuses on Janine Orie

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A political fundraiser and a state employee who helped with Judge Joan Orie Melvin's 2009 campaign for the Pennsylvania Supreme Court testified Wednesday that they didn't know her campaign manager but worked often with her sister Janine Orie.

Joanne Tsucalas and Tracy Kolich were among prosecutors' last witnesses on this ninth day of trial as they tried to prove that now-suspended Justice Orie Melvin had no campaign manager -- her Superior Court staffers and those of her sister, former state Sen. Jane Orie, were performing that work.

Justice Orie Melvin and Janine Orie are accused of theft of services and conspiracy, among other counts, for using the judge's judicial staff and the senator's staff to run for the Supreme Court in 2003 and 2009.

Ms. Tsucalas, the Philadelphia-based fundraiser Judge Orie Melvin hired, testified that she exchanged emails with Janine Orie during the 2009 campaign. She also received daily donor updates from former Senate staffer Josh Dott, who testified earlier in the trial that he spent a quarter of his workday doing political work for Justice Orie Melvin.

A message from a reporter looking to do a story on the judge at the time was forwarded to Ms. Tsucalas, who forwarded it to Janine Orie. Asked why, she said: "I was not informed who the campaign manager was."

But when questioned by the defense, Ms. Tsucalas said Janine Orie's emails played a "small part" in her fundraising, that checks were sent to her and that she had established fundraising contacts here because of her work with other Republican candidates in southwestern Pennsylvania.

Ms. Kolich, who worked for the judge's campaign from March to November 2009, testified that she emailed Janine Orie about how to obtain campaign literature, among other requests.

"We did not have a designated campaign manager," she said.

In cross-examination, the defense noted that many emails contained no response, and it was not clear who was completing the tasks in question and when.

Ms. Kolich also testified that she didn't know where palm cards and signs were kept, that she never spoke to Justice Orie Melvin's law clerks and never sent checks to judicial chambers. She testified that of the "thousands" of emails between her and Janine Orie, most were pertaining to how to coordinate her judicial and campaign commitments.

Earlier in the day, a man who works in human resources for the Administrative Office of Pennsylvania Courts testified that Lisa Sasinoski, a former law clerk for and key witness against Justice Orie Melvin, voluntarily resigned her position Dec. 10, 2003. Ms. Sasinoski previously testified during the trial that she was fired for saying she would no longer participate in political activity in the office.

David Kutz told the jury that state employment records show Ms. Sasinoski on Jan. 4, 2004, joined the staff of state Supreme Court Justice Max Baer, who had defeated Judge Orie Melvin in the 2003 general election. The defense contends that Ms. Sasinoski already had a job offer from Justice Baer before she quit working for Judge Orie Melvin.

The prosecution, which has called 21 witnesses so far, is expected to hear testimony from its final three today.

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Paula Ward: pward@post-gazette.com or 412-263-2620. Molly Born: mborn@post-gazette.com or 412-263-1944.


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