Defense attorneys for suspended state Supreme Court Justice Joan Orie Melvin argued in a legal filing Friday that the suspended jurist should not be facing criminal charges because activity by court employees is to be regulated only by the judiciary.
In a lengthy memorandum, the lawyers called the prosecution "unprecedented and constitutionally flawed," explaining that they believe their client is being prosecuted in criminal court for violating an internal court rule regulating political activity by court employees.
Justice Orie Melvin is charged with seven criminal counts, including theft of services, criminal conspiracy, official oppression and misapplication of entrusted property.
She was charged in May and is scheduled to go on trial, with her sister, Janine Orie, in January. Ms. Orie worked as the justice's office administrator.
They are accused of using the judge's staff to run election campaigns to the Pennsylvania high court in 2003 and 2009.
"These flawed charges, if allowed to proceed, expose the Pennsylvania judiciary to the arbitrary police power of every prosecutor," her attorneys wrote. "The independence of the judiciary will erode and yield to the executive's self-declared authority to police and prosecute the manner and means by which judges direct their staff and exercise their judicial authority."
The attorneys have asked Allegheny County Common Pleas Judge Lester G. Nauhaus to hold a hearing on the matter.
The Allegheny County District Attorney's office had no comment on the filing.
Throughout the court filing, attorneys for Justice Orie Melvin cite case law including at least two opinions authored by former state Supreme Court Justice Stephen A. Zappala -- the father of the current Allegheny County district attorney.
"[E]ven a statute enacted pursuant to the legislature's police power which furthers a laudable public policy must be struck down if it is found to interfere with another co-equal branch of government," Justice Zappala wrote in a 1983 case.
Attorneys for Justice Orie Melvin, who is currently suspended, said that her prosecution is "an unconstitutional infringement on the exclusive authority of the judiciary to supervise the courts."
Among other issues raised in the pre-trial motion is the prosecution's use of Justice Orie Melvin's deposition before the Judicial Conduct Board in April. The defense argues that the testimony should have been kept confidential, and therefore should be suppressed from trial.
Paula Reed Ward: firstname.lastname@example.org or 412-263-2620.