Two former employees testify they did campaign work for Orie Melvin

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Two former employees of now-suspended state Supreme Court Justice Joan Orie Melvin testified today that they did campaign work for her, including Election Day 2003, when they were asked to stand outside a polling place with literature.

Katherine Squires, a former secretary, testified that she worked three hours daily on campaign work in 2003, one of the years the prosecution is focused on in the ongoing criminal trial of the justice and her sister, Janine Orie.

The two are accused of theft of services and conspiracy, among other counts, for using the judge's judicial staff and the staff of another sister, former state Sen. Jane Orie, to run for the Supreme Court in 2003 and 2009.

Ms. Squires also testified she put aside her judicial work when asked to do campaign tasks, including mailing more than 1,000 thank you letters to donors and stuffing envelopes. Both Ms. Squires and former law clerk Cathy Skidmore said they were asked to stand outside a Squirrel Hill polling place on Election Day 2003, a court holiday, with handouts Janine Orie gave them in support of Joan Orie Melvin. The justice was not present when they were asked to go, they testified.

"I was just told to go, and I felt like I had no choice," Ms. Squires said.

Ms. Skidmore said. "I was very surprised that everyone just seemed to take them," she said, speaking of the bags of campaign literature.

But, she acknowledged, "I did not speak up."

When question by the defense, Ms. Skidmore testified that she was never asked to run campaign errands or make fundraising calls. She said she never saw Joan Orie Melvin meeting in her chambers with her campaign team and testified that she voluntarily helped Janine Orie, whom both described as the staff office manager, stuff envelopes with her sister's campaign literature.

Ms. Squires also testified about an incident in September 2009 when the office was closed for the G-20 summit. The prosecution submitted as evidence a note Ms. Squires said was from Janine Orie giving her the options to come in and answer phones, take a vacation day -- or do campaign work for Joan Orie Melvin. Ms. Squires said she chose to work from home on judicial matters.

A former University of Pittsburgh intern for former state Sen. Orie also testified today that while representing the senator's office at a church festival, she was expected to distribute material for Joan Orie Melvin's campaign, in addition to legislative literature.

Jennifer Rioja resigned from her internship after concerns about legislative misconduct "because I didn't want to support or condone it any longer," she testified. She said she observed staffers processing fundraising checks for Joan Orie Melvin's campaign, among other things.

After stepping down, Ms. Rioja reported her concerns to the Allegheny County district attorney's office.

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Molly Born: mborn@post-gazette.com or 412-263-1944 or on Twitter @borntolede.


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