Accountant: Campaign work cost taxpayers $33,475

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The state taxpayers lost $33,475 because of alleged political work conducted by judicial and Senate staffers for Joan Orie Melvin to run for the Pennsylvania Supreme Court in 2003 and 2009.

That estimate was provided Thursday by Jackelyn Weibel, a forensic accountant with the Allegheny County district attorney's office.

Ms. Weibel told the jury hearing the case of suspended Justice Orie Melvin and her sister Janine Orie that she calculated that amount by using estimates provided during testimony in the ongoing trial.

Assistant District Attorney Lawrence Claus asked four Senate staffers and two judicial staff members to estimate the percentage of their workday spent on political work. Ms. Weibel used that estimate and multiplied it by the hourly rate of pay to come up with the amount.

Justice Orie Melvin and Janine Orie, who worked for the judge as an administrative assistant, are charged with conspiracy, theft of services and related counts stemming from campaigns for the high court in 2003 and 2009.

Ms. Weibel's estimates included a total loss of $27,702 from the 2003 campaign and $5,773 from the 2009 run. The loss from the judicial staff work was $22,627, and from the Senate staff, it was $10,847.

The forensic accountant was the last witness called by the prosecution after 10 days of testimony. The defense will begin its case today.

During cross-examination, Justice Orie Melvin's defense attorney, Dan Brier, challenged the way Ms. Weibel conducted her calculations.

He asked whether she went through campaign records to confirm some of the witness testimony about work that was done or whether she made follow-up calls to confirm that Justice Orie Melvin's staff actually accompanied her on visits to law firms and companies during her 2003 run.

Ms. Weibel said she did not.

He also asked whether she factored into her calculations testimony from staffers who said their legitimate state work was completed despite any political work being done.

Last year during the criminal trial of former state Sen. Jane Orie, who is serving 21/2 to 10 years in prison on a conviction of theft of services, forgery and other counts, Ms. Weibel testified that, based on staffers' estimates, the state lost about $34,050.

Earlier in the day Thursday, W. Russell Faber, chief clerk for the Pennsylvania Senate, testified that before June 2010, there was no formalized rule prohibiting Senate staff from participating in political activity.

Under cross-examination by James DePasquale, Janine Orie's defense attorney, Mr. Faber said that even with that rule in place, an exception to it exists for what is considered to be "de mininimis" activity.

Mr. Faber testified that each individual senator is responsible for setting rules for compensatory time for their employees.

Further, he said, no one in the judicial system has any authority to direct Senate staffers and tell them what work to perform.

Among the prosecution's allegations are that Justice Orie Melvin and Janine Orie gave Jane Orie's staffers campaign work to do for the judge.

Allegheny County Common Pleas Judge Lester G. Nauhaus rejected defense motions asking to dismiss charges against both defendants, finding that there was enough evidence of each crime for the case to go to the jury.

state

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


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