Judge denies Orie Melvin motion for protection from criminal prosecution

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An Allegheny County judge this morning denied a motion by suspended state Supreme Court Justice Joan Orie Melvin in which she argued that she should not face criminal prosecution because of her position in the judiciary.

Judge Lester G. Nauhaus listened to argument from defense counsel on the issue, but repeatedly interrupted.

"Let me get this right, because Joan Orie Melvin is a Supreme Court justice, she's above the law? She's charged with stealing office supplies," the judge said. "She's not charged with violating a Supreme Court rule about political activity."

Donna Walsh told the judge that many of the seven counts against her client are based upon political activity alleged by the prosecution, including speech-writing by her staffers.

"The [Pennsylvania] Constitution vests the Supreme Court with exclusive authority to regulate that conduct," she said.

Ms. Walsh said the Supreme Court, and its Judicial Conduct Board have authority in that situation.

But Judge Nauhaus disagreed.

"It's not a question of one or the other," the judge said.

"Yes, it is your honor," she answered

"No, it's not," he replied. "We're talking about alleged criminal behavior, and you're telling me the executive branch can't do anything about criminal behavior?"

Justice Orie Melvin is scheduled to go to trial next months on charges that she used her staff and state-funded resources to run for election on the state Supreme Court in 2003 and 2009.

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