Just when the argument about the sentence for former state Supreme Court Justice Joan Orie Melvin seemed as if it could not be messed up any more, it was messed up some more. Allegheny County Common Pleas Court Judge Lester Nauhaus, author of the troubles from the start, added a new complication Friday.
Despite the objections of Orie Melvin’s defense attorney, Judge Nauhaus ordered the sentence for the disgraced justice suspended so that she could not collect credit for time served while a part of the sentence is being appealed.
The upshot is that Orie Melvin is no longer under house arrest. In our view, she should be in prison, a sentence that if originally imposed might have forestalled the current nonsense. She was convicted in February of six counts, including conspiracy, theft of services and misapplication of government funds.
Basically, she ripped off Pennsylvania taxpayers by using state time and resources to do campaign work. Given her high position of trust, the sentence should have fit the crime. Instead, Judge Nauhaus sentenced her to three years’ house arrest, two years’ probation, community service and a $55,000 fine.
But he also got cute in an attempt to shame her. He required her to autograph apologetic photographs of herself and send them out to the state’s judges. This she resisted on the reasonable grounds that to do so amounted to an admission of guilt as she asserted her innocence in appeals. Superior Court stayed that requirement, setting up last week’s hearing.
Once again it was a testy proceeding and once again Judge Nauhaus arguably won the prize for petulance. Although the defense was in the odd position of arguing that Orie Melvin should continue her sentence, it isn’t unreasonable that she should be given some credit for her time under house arrest.
Now Superior Court must make sense of this debacle — and not a moment too soon. Judge Nauhaus is out of his depth and ordinary Pennsylvanians looking for justice are out of luck.