Witnesses, including chief clerk, describe Orie Melvin's campaign demands
Ex-law clerk testifies against state justice
July 31, 2012 8:00 AM
Lisa Sasinoski, the former chief law clerk of state Supreme Court Justice Joan Orie Melvin, leaves the courtroom Monday after her testimony.
State Supreme Court Justice Joan Orie Melvin speaks to the media outside the Pittsburgh Municipal Court building.
By Paula Reed Ward Pittsburgh Post-Gazette
The former chief law clerk for then-Superior Court Judge Joan Orie Melvin said that even though she had been loyal to the woman for five years -- writing speeches for her, traveling to campaign events and even working the polls -- everything with her boss was "What have you done for me lately?"
Lisa Sasinoski testified Monday that after Judge Orie Melvin lost her bid in 2003 for the state Supreme Court, the Orie family blamed Ms. Sasinoski for losing Philadelphia.
In the weeks after that failed campaign, Ms. Sasinoski said she went into the judge's office and told her she could do no more campaign work, that she needed to return to her regular eight-hour days as a chief law clerk.
"I had been loyal to them to the detriment of my children," she said. "I could see the writing on the wall."
Two days later, she said, Janine Orie, the judge's sister and office administrator, demanded her court and building ID. She no longer worked there.
Ms. Sasinoski testified for nearly three hours at Justice Orie Melvin's preliminary hearing Monday. The justice is charged with nine public corruption counts of using her judicial staff to campaign for the state Supreme Court in 2003 and 2009, when she won a Supreme Court seat.
The wife of an Allegheny County Common Pleas judge, Ms. Sasinoski, who now works for state Supreme Court Justice Max Baer, said that she didn't object to much of the campaign work she was assigned.
She even agreed to work a poll in Penn Hills, where she was recognized by a number of people.
"I thought at the time it was a test of loyalty," Ms. Sasinoski said. "If you're really loyal, you'll stand there from 7 o'clock in the morning 'til 8 o'clock at night."
But, she continued, it was when she was asked to fabricate vouchers to get street money she'd had enough.
"There was absolutely no way I was going to duplicate, fabricate or make up vouchers to steal money out of a campaign," Ms. Sasinoski said. "I resolved at that point to get myself out of the situation."
Just before the 2003 general election, Ms. Sasinoski said she was approached by Janine Orie to copy receipts and vouchers of her travels with the judge, to make it appear the judge's other sister, Sen. Jane Orie, accompanied them in their campaign travels.
In that way, they could get a check from the campaign treasury, write it out to Jane Orie for reimbursement, and she would then in turn provide the campaign cash to be used as street money. She explained that street money was used to encourage and help people get to the polls.
The first witness of the day was Molly Creenan, another of Justice Orie Melvin's law clerks.
Ms. Creenan joined her staff in 1998 and left in April of this year. She testified for about three hours, telling Magisterial District Judge James J. Hanley Jr. in Pittsburgh municipal court that she witnessed extensive political activity in the office by most of the staff, including Janine Orie. Ms. Creenan testified that she filled out political questionnaires from various interest groups but refused a demand in 2003 to work the polls. Because of that refusal, she was instead required to report to the court office to work on election day, even though it was a scheduled holiday, she said.
Ms. Creenan was so bothered by the political activity in 2003, she testified, that she approached Judge Orie Melvin when she learned years later the woman planned to run in the 2009 election.
Ms. Creenan said she congratulated the judge on the decision to run, but told her she had concerns about previous political activity and raised the conviction of state House Rep. Jeff Habay and the then-ongoing Bonusgate public corruption investigation.
"I said if there's ever an investigation into our office, I would tell the truth," she said. "I didn't really get a response."
She then said that neither Janine Orie nor Judge Orie Melvin spoke to her for a long time after that.
Throughout the hearing, Justice Orie Melvin sat quietly with her hands folded across her lap, occasionally receiving handwritten notes from her daughter, Casey Melvin, who sat behind her.
The last witness Monday was Kathy Squires, who was hired as a secretary by Ms. Orie Melvin in 1998.
She testified that during the 2003 campaign, she spent as many as three hours a day working on political materials, including keeping a database of donors.
Ms. Squires said she believed she ended up with carpal tunnel syndrome at the end of that election cycle because of all of the data entry she performed.
In 2009, Ms. Squires said she no longer had to keep track of donations, but still spent about five hours per week on campaign activity, such as keeping track of expenses and depositing donations at a local bank.
Throughout her testimony, Ms. Squires said that all of the directives she received were issued by Janine Orie.