Pa. ex-Sen. Orie's staffers testify at Justice Melvin's trial

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As the fourth day of trial in the criminal case against suspended state Supreme Court Justice Joan Orie Melvin unfolded Wednesday, prosecutors called a number of witnesses who previously worked for the justice's sister, a former state senator, but did campaign work for the judge.

Four staffers who worked for former state Sen. Jane Orie testified about their campaign work and how they received their orders to do it. Barbara Brown, who worked in Jane Orie's Harrisburg office, said she spent as much as 50 percent of 2003 working on the judge's campaign.

Justice Melvin is on trial before a jury in Common Pleas Judge Lester G. Nauhaus' courtroom with her sister, Janine Orie, on charges of using Senate staff and judicial staff to run the judge's campaigns for the high court in 2003 and 2009.

Ms. Brown said she accompanied then-Superior Court Judge Melvin on trips to a number of law firms, companies and lunch and dinner events often during her legislative work day.

On one such occasion at an event at the Harrisburg Hilton, Ms. Brown saw the judge's opponent, then-Superior Court Judge Max Baer. Later that day, she ran into him as she walked out of Jane Orie's legislative office.

"I was a little concerned," Ms. Brown testified. "The rules are, you do not do political work on state time."

"Did you know those rules?" Assistant District Attorney Lisa Mantella asked.

"Yes."

"Why did you do it?" the prosecutor continued.

"The boss wanted it done," Ms. Brown answered.

When Justice Melvin traveled to Harrisburg, Ms. Brown testified, she would call the legislative office to say she was arriving, and the staffer would in turn call Senate security so she could park close to the office. Ms. Brown also testified that she received comp time for the campaign work she did for the judge.

Jason Davidek, who worked as a legislative aide for Jane Orie in her North Hills office, estimated he drove Justice Melvin on about 20 trips for her campaign in 2003, including several to Philadelphia, Harrisburg and other areas of Central and Eastern Pennsylvania. "I spent a lot of time away from my regular duties at the office," he said. Mr. Davidek received one payment from the judge's campaign during that time for $300.

Sharon Cochran, who also worked for the senator and is Mr. Davidek's mother, testified that she drove Justice Melvin to a dinner in Johnstown in 2003 and received five hours of comp time for it. "It was just understood it was part of your requirements," she said. "To turn them down, honestly, you probably wouldn't have a job for long."

Earlier in the day, attorneys finished their examination of Jamie Pavlot, Jane Orie's former chief of staff. Jane Orie is serving a sentence of 2 1/2 years in prison on similar charges.


Sitting in the front row of the gallery observing the ongoing trial of state Supreme Court Justice Joan Orie Melvin and her sister, Janine Orie, was one of the people responsible for sending another Orie sister to prison.

A juror who sat on the panel that convicted former state Sen. Jane Orie of corruption and forgery last year in related counts went to court on Wednesday to watch.

He asked that his name be withheld but said that he was hoping to see something new in the current proceedings.

He did not.

The juror said that he was particularly curious about testimony from Jane Orie's chief of staff, Jamie Pavlot, about a phone call she said she received from her boss and Justice Orie Melvin in which they told her to remove campaign materials from boxes she took from the senate office.

The man wondered if the prosecution had produced any evidence, like telephone records, showing Ms. Pavlot did receive such a call.

It has not.

In the grand scheme of Jane Orie's case, though, the juror said that the phone call Ms. Pavlot said she received didn't matter.

"There was already a mountain of evidence produced, so one extra phone call didn't make a difference one way or the other," he said.

state

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


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