Jury finds Orie Melvin guilty on all but one count
February 21, 2013 8:45 PM
Darrell Sapp / Post-Gazette
Joan Orie Melvin and Janine Orie leave the Allegheny County Courthouse today via the sheriff's firearm permit entrance.
File photo of suspended State Supreme Court Justice Joan Orie Melvin.
By Paula Reed Ward Pittsburgh Post-Gazette
A jury found suspended Supreme Court Justice Joan Orie Melvin guilty on all but one count today. Her sister, Janine Orie, was found guilty on all but one count.
The sisters were charged with misapplication of government funds, theft of services and conspiracy for using the justice's former Superior Court staff and the legislative staff of a third sister, former state Sen. Jane Orie, to run campaigns for the Supreme Court in 2003 and 2009.
Among the allegations are that staffers wrote speeches, drove her to campaign events and worked the polls.
Jury foreman talks about Orie case
Matt Mabon, foreman of the jury that found suspended Supreme Court Justice Joan Orie Melvin and her sister, Janine Orie, guilty, talks about the deliberations. (Video by Nate Guidry; 2/21/2013)
The jury was hung on one count of official oppression against Justice Orie Melvin.
"I would first like to thank the members of the jury for their hard work and diligence," Allegheny County district attorney Stephen A. Zappala Jr. said in a statement his office emailed to reporters this afternoon. "This jury, having sat in a court of law, heard the truth about the defendant's conduct and has made it absolutely clear that no one is above the law irrespective of title or status."
The jury of nine women and three men got the case at 2:05 p.m. Friday after Allegheny County Common Pleas Judge Lester G. Nahaus gave them final instructions.
Justice Orie Melvin faced seven counts, including three counts of felony theft of services, one count of conspiracy to commit theft of services, also a felony, and one count each of misdemeanor misapplication of government property, official oppression and conspiracy to tamper with evidence.
Ms. Orie, Justice Orie Melvin and Justice Orie Melvin's daughter, Casey Melvin, left the courthouse in a black Land Rover after getting a sheriff's deputy escort out of the building.
Their attorneys had no comment.
Matt Mabon, the jury foreman, explained that the jury couldn't reach a decision on the offical oppression count, which was connected to the employment of Lisa Sasinoski, chief law clerk for the justice who was a witness. Because there were competing versions of whether she was fired or resigned, jurors couldn't reach a decision, he said.
Mr. Mabon said the word "acquittal" never came up in the room while jurors deliberated.
"Actually, we never even talked about that," he said.
He referred to the case of Joan and Janine's sister, Jane Orie.
"We knew what happened with the senator," he said. "We're not allowed to talk about that. Jane's already been convicted, she's in jail, that horse is dead, let's not beat it anymore."
With regard to the defense put on regarding Justice Orie Melvin's actions in paying back for campaign related expenses, he said, "It has really nothing to do with any of that. The paying back was so minimal as to what was actually taken."
While jury members were polled on the verdicts this afternoon, Juror No. 6 was crying.
"Today was the only day there was any emotion in this case," he said. "Honestly, I think we were tired."
Justice Orie Melvin was initially charged in May and voluntarily stepped away from the high court that day.
A few hours later, the court issued an order suspending her to "preserve the integrity" of the system.
That same day, the Pennsylvania Judicial Conduct Board issued a recommendation that she be suspended with pay pending resolution of the criminal case.
In August, the Court of Judicial Discipline ruled that Justice Orie Melvin should not be paid during her suspension. Her salary at the time was $195,309.
Justice Orie Melvin fought unsuccessfully to have the charges against her dismissed, claiming that the Supreme Court itself should have jurisdiction over the allegations and not the criminal courts.
Janine Orie worked for the justice as an administrative assistant.
The third sister, Jane Orie, was found guilty in March of 14 of 24 counts against her, including ethics violations, theft of services, tampering with evidence and forgery.
She was found not guilty on a theft count related to Justice Orie Melvin's Supreme Court campaigns in 2003 and 2006, as well as an ethics count related to the justice.