DA urges state court to uphold Melvin's conviction

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The Allegheny County district attorney's office on Friday told the state Superior Court that the conviction of Joan Orie Melvin, former Pennsylvania Supreme Court justice, should stand.

In a 109-page response written by deputy district attorney Michael W. Streily, the filing strikes back point by point at the appeal filed by Melvin in December.

"None of appellant's claims establish that Judge [Lester] Nauhaus denied her a fair trial," the prosecution wrote. "The evidence established beyond a reasonable doubt that appellant committed the crimes for which she was convicted."

Mr. Streily dismissed the defense argument that there was insufficient evidence to support the conviction.

Melvin's attorneys argued that she should not have been tried criminally because her behavior -- using judicial staff to help run her election campaigns -- violated only an internal court policy that falls outside of law enforcement jurisdiction.

"Appellant's assertion that the prosecution was constitutionally invalid because of a separation of power issue lacks merit, as it is built on a faulty premise," Mr. Streily wrote. "Appellant was not prosecuted for pure political activity. Nor was she prosecuted for violating a Supreme Court Order regulating activity of judicial employees."

He continued, "The fact is however, the activity was being performed when the employees were being paid to do the commonwealth's business; and was being carried out with equipment and supplies given to appellant to perform her duties as a judge, or to Jane Orie, to perform her duties as a Senator. The mantle of political activity is whole cloth in this regard as a judicial robe is not authority to stick one's hand into the public coffer for private gain."

As for claims that the case should have been tried by a judge outside of Allegheny County, the prosecutor disagreed.

Melvin's attorneys argued early in the case that because she once served as a local judge, and because a key witness in the case -- Lisa Sasinoski -- was the wife of a sitting judge, that she would not get a fair trial.

But Mr. Streily noted that Melvin hadn't served in Allegheny County since 1997 and that Ms. Sasinoski was not "the primary accuser."

Another argument raised by the defense was that Melvin's case was joined with that of her sister, Janine Orie, who served as her administrative assistant.

But Mr. Streily said in response that the two sisters "spoke with one voice, and that Janine was the person to contact in order to make sure that appellant would receive messages about the political activity being conducted on her behalf and important matters which needed to be taken care of by the campaign."

Mr. Streily argued that the same evidence was admissible against both defendants.

Paula Reed Ward: pward@post-gazette.com, 412-263-2620 or on Twitter @PaulaReedWard.

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