Judge orders suspended Justice Orie Melvin and a sister to stand trial together
August 23, 2012 6:30 PM
State Supreme Court Justice Joan Orie Melvin.
By Paula Reed Ward Pittsburgh Post-Gazette
An Allegheny County judge today ruled that suspended Pennsylvania Supreme Court Justice Joan Orie Melvin will be tried at the same time as her sister, Janine Orie, and that the case is being reassigned to a different judge.
Judge Jeffrey A. Manning issued two separate orders in the case against Justice Orie Melvin and Ms. Orie, who are charged with using the judge's staff to help run election campaigns for the Pennsylvania high court in 2003 and 2009.
The case has been reassigned to Judge Lester G. Nauhaus.
Judge Manning presided over two earlier trials relating to the charges in which former state Sen. Jane Orie was charged.
In the first instance, Jane Orie and Janine Orie went on trial together, but that case ended in a mistrial after prosecutors alleged the senator submitted fraudulent documents to the jury.
Jane Orie was tried again earlier this year on her own -- Judge Manning separated Janine Orie's charges so she would not be prejudiced by the accusations of forgery -- and was found guilty on several counts, including theft of services, forgery and ethics violations.
She was sentenced to 2-1/2 to 10 years in prison.
Last week, attorneys for Janine Orie and Justice Orie Melvin, who was charged in May, argued that the two sisters should not be tried together as the prosecution requested.
In a 17-page opinion, Judge Manning disagreed with the defense.
"These cases involve the same participants, the same witnesses and the same overarching conspiratorial goal," he wrote. "If they were tried separately, the second trial would be a mere rerun of the first."
In reassigning the case, Judge Manning said it should not be considered by the defense a recusal on his part. Justice Orie Melvin had asked twice for Judge Manning to step aside, but each request was denied as "wholly without merit."
"Recusal by this court was not warranted in these matters and this reassignment should not be construed as a recusal," Judge Manning wrote.
He did not explain in the order why the case is being reassigned.