Orie Melvin faces trial on seven counts; two dismissed

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After a two-day preliminary hearing, a magisterial judge dismissed two counts but held suspended state Supreme Court Justice Joan Orie Melvin on seven others.Magisterial District Judge James J. Hanley Jr. dismissed one count of criminal solicitation and one count of official oppression after testimony from former employees of Justice Orie Melvin.Defense attorneys spent much of the morning attempting to show that Justice Orie Melvin's sister, Janine Orie, was not the judge's campaign manager in her successful run for the high court in 2009.

Prosecutors called two women who worked on the justice's campaign.

Both agreed with defense attorneys that although they often spoke with Janine Orie regarding scheduling matters -- she was then Superior Court Judge Orie Melvin's office administrator -- they never dealt with her on important campaign issues like strategy, opposition research, fundraising or polling.

"I don't believe there was ever a campaign manager that I know of," said Noel Nyquist, who worked with Commonwealth Strategic Solutions on that election.

Instead, both she and Tracy Kolich Hall said they most regularly spoke to Justice Orie Melvin herself.

They also told Judge Hanley that they never went to Justice Orie Melvin's judicial chambers to speak with her, never called her on her chambers telephone and did not email her on her Superior Court account.

A campaign headquarters was rented at the Commonwealth Strategic Solutions office on State Street in Harrisburg. Ms. Kolich Hall staffed it.

Also called to testify this morning was Barbara Brown, an executive assistant for then-state Sen. Jane Orie in Harrisburg.

Ms. Brown testified that she attended a number of events with Judge Melvin in 2003 in the Harrisburg area at the senator's direction.

She was told to help with "anything Joan needed," Ms. Brown said.

"I was willing to do it," she said. "It's what the senator wanted."

Jane Orie, a former Republican senator from McCandless, was found guilty on charges of public corruption for using her legislative staff for campaigning. She was sentenced to state prison in June.

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


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