Orie Melvin's lawyers try to make case for probation

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The prosecution in the criminal case of suspended Pennsylvania Supreme Court Justice Joan Orie Melvin is asking that she receive a sentence of incarceration, while the defense said Monday that the woman's history of public service, charitable work and as a strong wife and mother should result in probation.

She will be sentenced May 7 by Allegheny County Common Pleas Judge Lester Nauhaus.

Both sides filed briefs with the court Monday addressing sentencing.

Justice Orie Melvin, who submitted a letter of resignation effective May 1, and her sister Janine Orie were convicted of six criminal counts on charges they misused state staffers to help the jurist run for the high court.

In his filing, Assistant District Attorney Lawrence Claus wrote: "Citizens have a right to trust in the legal system and to expect that, above all others, those public officials who are elected to high office will discharge the duty to uphold the law with fidelity and not ride roughshod over their obligation as a public servant."

He is seeking consecutive sentences of incarceration for each offense in the aggravated range.

In the standard range, Mr. Claus calculated Justice Orie Melvin's sentence at probation to 30 months' incarceration. In the aggravated range, it would go up to 48 months.

In his lengthy memo, Mr. Claus quotes from Justice Orie Melvin's speech she gave after taking the oath of office for the high court, in which she spoke about the need for transparency, accountability and reform in the courts.

"Instead of being a steward of reform, as she claimed to be, evidence in this case ... revealed that she herself was a perpetrator of the corruption that she publicly decried," Mr. Claus wrote.

Among the aggravating factors he listed, the prosecutor said Justice Orie Melvin disregarded a democratic election process by creating an uneven playing field; for her lack of remorse; that she had been warned about her actions after the 2003 election but did the same thing in 2009; and that she didn't submit her letter of resignation until last month.

But in the brief filed for Justice Orie Melvin, her defense attorneys outlined her family, a life filled with charitable work and dedication to public service.

"These facts are the true measure of the woman and the factors which should properly guide this court in determining an appropriate sentence," Patrick Casey wrote.

The memorandum also notes that she's participated in more than 8,000 appellate court decisions, returned more than $52,000 in cost of living increases and did not accept a car allowance.

Among the reasons the defense argues probation is appropriate: The criminal conduct neither caused nor threatened serious harm; the justice and her staff consistently got their work done; and incarceration would cause a serious hardship on her family, including her six children and elderly father.

"The collective impact of these related prosecutions has had a devastating impact on the entire Orie family and continues to cause great personal pain and anxiety," the defense wrote, also noting her loss of income and possibly her pension. "Put simply, Orie Melvin has already experienced substantial punishment far exceeding the value of the services that were allegedly diverted."

As for Janine Orie, Mr. Claus asked that she, too, be sentenced to consecutive sentences.

The calculations for Janine Orie in the standard range call for probation to 27 months and up to 45 months in the aggravated range.

Mike Manko, a spokesman for the office, said both women should be sentenced similarly to another sister, former state Sen. Jane Orie, who is serving a 2 1/2- to 10-year prison term.

Mr. Manko said prosecutors consider Janine Orie to be "the linchpin in the criminal conspiracy between the two public offices."

The women were found guilty by a jury in February.

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


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