Orie Melvin jury selection begins today

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Jury selection begins this morning in the criminal case against suspended state Supreme Court Justice Joan Orie Melvin.

Allegheny County Common Pleas Judge Lester G. Nauhaus told attorneys in the case on Friday he is setting aside one month for the trial.

Justice Melvin, 56, is accused of using her judicial staff to run election campaigns for herself for the Pennsylvania high court in 2003 and 2009.

Among the allegations are that staffers wrote speeches, drove her to campaign events and worked the polls.

She faces 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.

Two additional counts, including criminal solicitation and official oppression, were dismissed following Justice Melvin's preliminary hearing in July.

She was initially charged in May and voluntarily stepped away from the high court that day. But 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 Melvin should not be paid during her suspension. Her salary at the time was $195,309.

Justice 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.

Also charged in the case is Janine Orie, the justice's sister, who worked for the justice as an administrative assistant.

Another sister, former state Sen. 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 Melvin's Supreme Court campaigns in 2003 and 2006, as well as an ethics count related to the justice.

Jane Orie is serving 2 1/2 to 10 years in prison.

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Paula Reed Ward: pward@post-gazette.com or 412-263-2620.


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