Orie Melvin's attorneys seek consolidated appeal

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Defense attorneys for former state Supreme Court Justice Joan Orie Melvin filed motions this morning seeking to consolidate the appeals of her criminal conviction and stay of sentence in Pennsylvania Superior Court.

Orie Melvin was found guilty of using both her judicial staff and the legislative staff of her sister to help run her election campaigns in 2003 and 2009.

She was sentenced in May 2013 to serve three years' house arrest and send a photograph of herself in handcuffs, with an apology written on it, to every jurist in the state.

However, in November, Common Pleas Judge Lester G. Nauhaus stayed her sentence pending resolution of the appeal.

Orie Melvin has filed a separate appeal on the stay, as well.

In filings posted today, her attorneys have asked that both matters be consolidated.

"Consolidation will serve the interests of efficiency and economy since the appeals raise common questions of law and fact concerning the validity of the criminal sentence imposed on Orie Melvin," her attorneys wrote.

The appeal on her conviction is listed for oral argument on May 20, while briefs on the stay of her sentence have not yet come due.

In a separate filing, Orie Melvin also asked today for Superior Court Judge Paula Ott and any other judge who campaigned for a statewide judicial office in either 2003 or 2009 to recuse themselves from her appeals.

Judge Ott is currently slated to hear the May 20 case, along with Judges Christine L. Donohue and John L. Musmanno.

In the motion, Orie Melvins' attorneys argue that Judge Ott's "impartiality might reasonably be questioned because she was a candidate for statewide judicial office in 2009 and therefore may have personal knowledge of relevant evidentiary facts concerning events that occurred during the campaign."

Other judges who were similarly situated -- Anne E. Lazaurs and Judith Ference Olson -- recused themselves from Orie Melvin's judicial conduct board inquiry and her appeal, respectively, the attorneys noted.

But in its response filed hours later, the Allegheny County district attorney's office said that the defense could have asked for consolidation months ago, and that Orie Melvin might now be "uncomfortable" arguing the case in front of two members of the Superior Court who ruled against her co-conspirator and sister, former state Sen. Jane Orie.

The prosecution called the request for Judge Ott to recuse "frivolous" because the judge would automatically have to do so if she had any knowledge of the underlying crime.

In the meantime, the DA's office has asked that an en banc panel of nine Superior Court judges hear the case and do so in an expedited manner.

Paula Ward: pward@post-gazette.com and 412-263-2620.

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