Melvin seeks hefty file on former employees

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Attorneys for a variety of Pennsylvania court administrators believe a request by state Supreme Court Justice Joan Orie Melvin to turn over a slew of records relating to employment, bookkeeping, expenses and policies is not only overbroad but outside the scope of her preliminary hearing scheduled for July 30.

Those administrators, including Zygmont Pines, the court administrator of Pennsylvania, as well as representatives of the Superior Court and Supreme Court, filed a motion to quash the subpoenas with Allegheny County Common Pleas Judge Jeffrey A. Manning on Tuesday.

The judge has not yet issued a decision on the matter nor set a hearing date.

Patrick A. Casey, who is representing Justice Melvin, did not return messages seeking comment.

According to the motion, Justice Melvin, who is suspended from the Supreme Court as she fights criminal charges that she used her judicial staff to run her own election campaigns, issued subpoenas requesting personnel files and employment records for her staff. In addition, she asked for employment policies for things such as computer use, time keeping, overtime, expense reimbursement, telephone use and office equipment use.

Justice Melvin is also seeking information related to Supreme Court orders from 1987 and 1998 that prohibited partisan political activity.

The bulk of the request, though, seeks materials related to Justice Melvin's former chief law clerk, Lisa Sasinoski, who prosecutors allege performed a significant amount of campaign work for then Judge Melvin on the Superior Court.

Ms. Sasinoski went to work for state Supreme Court Justice Max Baer after he defeated then-Superior Court Judge Melvin in the 2003 high court race.

Justice Melvin also has issued a subpoena to Justice Baer to appear at the preliminary hearing, but the lawyers are seeking to have that quashed as well.

According to the motion, the lawyers for the court administrators believe that the subpoenas are "overly broad and unduly burdensome and oppressive."

The subpoenas seek records dating back 25 years, it continues, and in some cases ask for "any and all" communications.

In addition, the lawyers write that the information being sought is outside the scope of a preliminary hearing, which requires only that prosecutors prove they have a prima facie case.

University of Pittsburgh law professor John Burkoff agrees that the request by Justice Melvin is premature.

"It's hard to see why this sort of discovery would be useful for a preliminary hearing as the only issue there is probable cause," Mr. Burkoff said. "But at trial, this sort of impeachment material could be very significant."

state

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


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