Orie Melvin jury to reconvene Tuesday

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Deliberations will resume Tuesday in the criminal trial of suspended state Supreme Court Justice Joan Orie Melvin and her sister, Janine Orie.

The jury of nine women and three men began deliberating Friday at 2:05 p.m. and did so for about two hours before calling it a day. About an hour into their deliberations they returned to the courtroom to request definitions of the charges filed against the sisters and the elements required for conviction.

Allegheny County Common Pleas Judge Lester G. Nahaus, who in his hour-long jury charge earlier in the afternoon had done that orally, said he would provide them with written copies upon their return to court Tuesday. Courts are closed Monday for Presidents Day.

The sisters are charged with misapplication of government funds, theft of services and conspiracy. They are accused of using the justice's former Superior Court staff and the legislative staff of a third sister, former state Sen. Jane Orie, to run Justice Orie Melvin's Supreme Court campaigns in 2003 and 2009.

In his closing argument Friday morning, Patrick Casey, Justice Orie Melvin's attorney, said prosecution witnesses had either lied or their testimony was "woefully inadequate" to convict his client, whom he called "courageous and honorable."

The jury, he said, needed to reject the prosecution's "concocted and inadequate" evidence and acquit Justice Orie Melvin because "it's too important to my client, it's too important to our system of justice and it's too important to your oath as a juror."

James DePasquale, Janine Orie's attorney, likewise argued that his client was innocent. He denied any prosecution evidence showed his client was guilty beyond a reasonable doubt and suggested she had been charged for political reasons.

Janine Orie, who was her sister's administrative assistant, in truth was only a "secretary" who had no power over anyone in her office or in Jane Orie's office, Mr. DePasquale said.

"Could it be the only reason Janine Orie is sitting here is because her name is Orie and she's the sister of Jane Orie and Supreme Court Justice Joan Orie Melvin?" he said. "She is not anything more than collateral damage, not anything more than a patsy put into this because of her name.

"When you distill it all down, the secretary Janine Orie should not be here."

In his closing, assistant district attorney Lawrence Claus said that while a couple of prosecution witnesses had in good faith "misspoken" about dates or other details, it did not discount the truthful essence of what they testified to -- the sisters had committed crimes to further Justice Orie Melvin's political career.

"Clearly this family has love, which is an admirable quality," he said. "But family ties can be less than admirable; they can be criminal. That's taking family ties too far."

Among the allegations against Justice Orie Melvin, 56, 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.

Janine Orie is charged with six crimes -- two counts of theft of services and single counts of misapplication of government property, tampering with evidence, criminal solicitation and conspiracy.

Justice Orie Melvin voluntarily stepped away from the high court the day she was charged in May. 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 Orie Melvin should not be paid during her suspension. Her salary at the time was $195,309.

Justice Orie 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.

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 Orie Melvin's Supreme Court campaigns as well as an ethics count related to the justice.

She is serving a prison sentence of 21/2 to 10 years.

state

Michael A. Fuoco: mfuoco@post-gazette.com or 412-263-1968.


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