Allegheny county judge to decide 'shortly' on separation of Orie Melvin, sister trials

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An Allegheny County judge said he will decide "shortly" whether a suspended state Supreme Court justice should be tried at the same time as her sister, who worked for her as an administrative assistant.

Suspended Justice Joan Orie Melvin was accused in May with using her judicial staff to campaign for the state's high court in elections in 2003 and 2009.

Janine Orie was accused initially in April 2010, along with another sister, former state Sen. Jane Orie, of using the senator's legislative staff for campaign purposes.

Additional charges were filed against Janine Orie in December related to Justice Orie Melvin, and Jane Orie went to trial in February and was convicted of ethics violations, theft of services and forgery and sentenced to prison.

Earlier this month, the Allegheny County District Attorney's office filed a motion to join the criminal cases of Justice Orie Melvin and Janine Orie.

During argument today before Judge Jeffrey A. Manning, Assistant District Attorney William Becker said the cases should be heard together because the defendants are part of the same conspiracy.

"All of them involve the same acts and transactions," he said. "Material for one is usable against the other."

Attorneys for both Justice Orie Melvin and Janine Orie argue that their clients would be prejudiced by the sisters being tried together.

James DePasquale, who represents Janine Orie, said his client has been awaiting trial for more than two years -- though she was part of a mistrial with Jane Orie after the submission of fraudulent evidence in March 2011.

"Our position, quite frankly, is enough is enough," Mr. DePasquale said. "Janine Orie has had continuance after continuance that we never moved for. There's nothing that would have prevented them from bringing the charges against Joan Melvin [in December.] The whole point is they did intend to charge Joan Melvin in mid December. They sent her a target letter."

The prosecution didn't file charges against Justice Orie Melvin until two months after Jane Orie was convicted.

Patrick Casey, who represents Justice Orie Melvin, said attempts to show that that Janine Orie tampered with evidence will reflect poorly on his client and is "incredibly prejudicial to her."

But the justice is also charged with tampering with evidence in a separate instance, Mr. Becker said.

"The same evidence is going to be presented against Joan Orie Melvin as Janine Mary Orie," he said. "That's the test for joinder."

breaking - region - electionspa

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


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