The members of the jury in the criminal trial of suspended state Supreme Court Justice Joan Orie Melvin and her sister Janine Orie deliberated for a little more than a hour before sending word that they had a question.
The jury of nine women and three men got the case at 2:05 p.m. after Allegheny County Common Pleas Judge Lester G. Nahaus gave them final instructions. Shortly after 3 p.m., the jury asked for definitions of the charges. The judge said that he would give them written instructions on Tuesday, when they reconvene after today's delibertions, which will continue until 4:30 p.m.
Courts are closed Monday for President's Day
The sisters are charged with misapplication of government funds, theft of services and conspiracy for allegedly using the justice's former Superior Court staff and the legislative staff of a third sister, former state Sen. Jane Orie, to run campaigns for the Supreme Court in 2003 and 2009.
In his closing argument this morning, Patrick Casey, Justice Melvin's attorney, said prosecution witnesses had either lied or their testimony was "woefully inadequate" to convict her.
James DePasquale, Janine Orie's attorney, likewise argued that his client was innocent. He suggested she had been charged for political reasons because she is a member of the Orie family.
In his closing, Assistant District Attorney Lawrence Claus said the sisters are from a tight-knit family, "Which is admirable," but their actions had been criminal.
"This is taking family ties too far," he said.
Justice Melvin, 56, is accused of using her judicial staff to run election campaigns for herself for the Pennsylvania high court in 2003 and 2009.
Among the allegations are that staffers wrote speeches, drove her to campaign events and worked the polls.
She faces seven counts, including three counts of felony theft of services, one count of conspiracy to commit theft of services, also a felony, and one count each of misdemeanor misapplication of government property, official oppression and conspiracy to tamper with evidence.
She was initially charged in May and voluntarily stepped away from the high court that day. But a few hours later, the court issued an order suspending her to "preserve the integrity" of the system.
That same day, the Pennsylvania Judicial Conduct Board issued a recommendation that she be suspended with pay pending resolution of the criminal case.
In August, the Court of Judicial Discipline ruled that Justice Melvin should not be paid during her suspension. Her salary at the time was $195,309.
Justice Melvin fought unsuccessfully to have the charges against her dismissed, claiming that the Supreme Court itself should have jurisdiction over the allegations and not the criminal courts.
Janine Orie worked for the justice as an administrative assistant.
The third sister Jane Orie, was found guilty in March of 14 of 24 counts against her, including ethics violations, theft of services, tampering with evidence and forgery. She was found not guilty on a theft count related to Justice Melvin's Supreme Court campaigns in 2003 and 2006, as well as an ethics count related to the justice.
Jane Orie is serving 2 1/2 to 10 years in prison.mobilehome - breaking - state
Michael A. Fuoco: firstname.lastname@example.org or 412-263-1968. First Published February 15, 2013 12:45 AM