The defense attorney for Pennsylvania Supreme Court Justice Joan Orie Melvin told jurors this morning in his opening statement that his client and her staff always got their judicial work done and spent less money on office supplies during her two election years than in the other years she spent on the Superior Court.
Dan Brier repeatedly urged the jury of nine women and three men to look at his client's hard work and respect for the law.
"Joan Orie Melvin is innocent," Dan Brier said. "We have been waiting a long time to say that. I'm going to say it again. Joan Orie Melvin is innocent. I urge you, pay attention to the evidence because today, ladies and gentlemen, the silence ends, and the truth begins."
Justice Orie Melvin is charged with using her judicial staff, as well as the legislative staff of her sister, convicted former state Sen. Jane Orie, to do political campaign work during her runs for the Pennsylvania Supreme Court in 2003 and 2009.
In his 36-minute opening, Mr. Brier said his client was one of the most productive members of the state Superior Court, and that she averaged 237 opinions per year during her time on that appellate court.
In 2003, she wrote 235. In 2009, she issued 257.
"In the two years the commonwealth wants to focus on, my client issued more decisions than most of the judges on the Superior Court of Pennsylvania," Mr. Brier said.
That, he continued, is an easy way to tell how hard she and her staff were working.
"When you're reading all the emails, I submit, that's the evidence," he said. "The work got done."
Defense attorney James DePasquale called Justice Orie Melvin the most important Republican woman on the Pennsylvania judiciary and said that Jane Orie was once the most important Republican woman in the legislature.
"She did not commit the crimes Stephen A. Zappala has charged her with," Mr. Brier said. "She didn't commit them in 2003, and she didn't commit them in 2009."
Much like his counterpart, Mr. DePasquale, representing another sister, Janine Orie, told the jurors that his client worked hard in her position as an administrative assistant for Justice Orie Melvin.
"How did she do it if she was a political operative in 2003 and 2009 running Joan Orie Melvin's campaigns?" he asked during his opening. "There's a theft ring basically going on in Joan Orie Melvin's office in 2003 and 2009, but everybody's doing their work, including Janine Orie. Does that make any sense?"
Assistant district attorney Lawrence Claus spent 31 minutes outlining the case against Justice Orie Melvin and her sister Janine.
The two women are accused of using the justice's judicial staff and the senate staff of another sister to campaign for the high court in 2003 and 2009.
Mr. Claus told the jury he expected to call at least 14 witnesses. Among the first will be Jane Orie's former chief of staff.
The prosecution said Justice Orie Melvin used her office equipment and supplies, as well as her staff, to further her political ambitions.
The staffers for both Justice Orie Melvin and Jane Orie "were there to work for the citizens of the commonwealth, the taxpayers who were paying them," Mr. Claus said.
For two staff members who complained about the political work, the prosecutor continued, one of them was terminated from her position as chief law clerk, and another was ostracized.
"She was given the quiet treatment for over six months," Mr. Claus said.
Justice Orie Melvin is charged with seven counts, including theft of services and official oppression. Janine Orie is charged with six counts, also including theft of services, and tampering with evidence.
Judge Lester G. Nauhaus said the case will last no longer than four weeks.
Paula Ward: firstname.lastname@example.org or 412-263-2620. First Published January 25, 2013 4:00 PM