Judge denies mistrial in Justice Orie Melvin case

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Defense attorneys for suspended state Supreme Court Justice Joan Orie Melvin this morning asked for a mistrial alleging prosecutorial misconduct and to have the charges against their client dismissed.

Allegheny County Common Pleas Judge Lester G. Nauhaus denied the motion but did provide a curative instruction to the jury.

Defense attorney Patrick Casey asked for the mistrial, claiming that the prosecution on Friday purposely solicited false information from Justice Orie Melvin's former law clerk.

During her direct examination, Lisa Sasinoski identified a hand-written note in which the judge asked her for answers on a questionnaire. When Assistant District Attorney Lawrence Claus showed her the document, Ms. Sasinoski answered in the affirmative that the questionnaire was seeking a political endorsement in 2003.

However, according to the defense motion, Mr. Claus only showed the witness the cover page to the document. The underlying pages were an introduction and request for Justice Melvin to attend a professional development seminar for the Pennsylvania Bar Association in 1998 and had nothing to do with political campaigning.

Justice Orie Melvin is on trial on charges she used her judicial staff and the staff of her sister, former state Sen. Jane Orie, to campaign for her while they were supposed to be working for the state.

Mr. Casey repeatedly asked Ms. Sasinoski about her characterization of the document, finally saying, "In reality, you were trying to hurt her."

The judge chastised Mr. Casey repeatedly as he continued to question Ms. Sasinoski, emphasizing the need to "tone it down."

Ms. Sasinoski finally responded, "I was mistaken" in her description of the document.

The judge rejected the mistrial request after prosecutors acknowledged making an honest mistake with the document and the jury was instructed to disregard that evidence.

A computer analyst for the Pennsylvania Superior Court also testified this morning in the case against both Justice Orie Melvin and her sister, Janine Orie, who worked as an administrative assistant for the court.

Linda Ollio testified that she saw a folder on the public computer drive for Justice Orie Melvin's chambers with the word "campaign" in it when she was asked to help with a technology issue.

"I was aware there weren't allowed to be any type of campaign things on court equipment," Ms. Ollio testified.

She told the jury hearing the case that one employee also asked her to restore a campaign document she'd lost after working on it for some time.

Ms. Ollio said she refused to help restore the document.

"I told her that I could not restore it for her because it was campaign-related, and I could lose my job."

The witness did say on cross-examination that she never saw any political documents on either Justice Melvin or Ms. Orie's computers.

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


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