Judge orders 'adjustment' of sentence for Orie Melvin

Former Pa. justice

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Former state Supreme Court Justice Joan Orie Melvin has been ordered back to court Thursday for a "hearing on adjustments" to her sentence.

The order caused speculation Friday that Orie Melvin could be facing jail time after the state Superior Court issued an opinion earlier in the week staying the portion of her criminal sentence requiring her to write letters of apology.

But Allegheny County Common Pleas Judge Lester G. Nauhaus, who sentenced Orie Melvin and is ordering her appearance Thursday, said he will not put her or her sister, Janine Orie, in jail.

"I just need to clear some things up," he said Friday night. "There are loose ends from the opinion, and I need to tie them up.

"I'm not going to put them in jail. There's no way in the world I could do that. There's a stay in place."

Judge Nauhaus ordered Orie Melvin in May to serve three years' house arrest, pay $55,000 in fines and spend time in a soup kitchen following her February conviction for theft of services and criminal conspiracy.

Janine Orie, who also is required to appear for a sentence adjustment on Thursday, was sentenced to one year house arrest.

Orie Melvin and Orie were found guilty of using judicial and legislative staff for another sister, former state Sen. Jane Orie, to run Orie Melvin's election campaigns in 2003 and 2009.

Judge Nauhaus also ordered Orie Melvin to be photographed in handcuffs, and for the woman to write a letter of apology on the photo to every judge in Pennsylvania.

The defense objected to that portion of the sentence, saying that it violated Orie Melvin's right against self-incrimination.

She sought a stay, and the Pennsylvania Superior Court on Wednesday issued a 17-page opinion granting it.

The court noted, though, that if it is determined that the apology requirement was an essential part of Judge Nauhaus' sentencing scheme, that the woman could be resentenced and face possible jail time -- a suggestion made by the prosecution.

Wes Oliver, a criminal law professor at Duquesne University, said Friday that Judge Nauhaus no longer has jurisdiction over the case because it's on appeal with the Superior Court.

"If he's going to offer some modification of the overall sentence now that there's a challenge to the apology letter requirement, then I think that might be something the court's lost jurisdiction over," he said. "It really depends on how radical this effort to clear things up really is."

Mr. Oliver said the defense could simply file a motion to hold in abeyance any action taken by Judge Nauhaus pending any resolution in the Superior Court.

"If I were them, so as not to anger the trial court, I would start with the trial court and essentially give it the opportunity to correct itself and then appeal from there," Mr. Oliver said.

If the defense goes directly to the state Superior Court, he continued, "then it looks like you don't trust the trial court to get it right."

Neither Orie Melvin's defense attorneys nor the district attorney's office had any comment.

Paula Reed Ward: pward@post-gazette.com, 412-263-2620 or on Twitter @PaulaReedWard.

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