Defense rests without Orie Melvin taking the stand

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The defense rested this afternoon the public corruption trial of suspended Pennsylvania Supreme Court Justice Joan Orie Melvin without her taking the stand.

That means she will not testify in a trial that has reached its 14th day.

Closing arguments are scheduled for Friday.

An accountant testified this morning that Justice Orie Melvin reimbursed the Administrative Office of Pennsylvania Courts more than $1,000 for her cell phone bill in 2003 when she was running for the high court.

She also paid the state back $155 for an extra night's hotel stay in Philadelphia while she was campaigning.

The defense attempted to show the jury that Justice Orie Melvin was conscientious of her expenditures, including for office supplies.

The justice and her sister, Janine Orie, are charged with misapplication of government funds, theft of services and conspiracy for allegedly using Superior Court judicial staff and the legislative staff of another sister, former state Sen. Jane Orie, to run campaigns for the Supreme Court in 2003 and 2009.

According to a chart introduced into evidence,the expenses for Justice Orie Melvin's chambers from 2002 to 2009 averaged $82,365 per year. During her political runs in 2003 and 2009, her chambers' expenses were below that average.

In addition, expenses paid to Justice Orie Melvin from fiscal years 2004 through 2008-09 showed that she was well below the median for the judges on the Superior Court -- and at times at the minimum -- collecting less than $5,000 per year.

The median collected by the judges ranged from just over $15,000 in 2004 to just below $10,000 in 2008/09.

"She happened to be the judge with the lowest personal expenses," testified Dennis Cheng, who prepared the charts for the defense.

Returning to the stand this afternoon will be Joseph Golden, a retired agent with the Internal Revenue Service Criminal Investigation Division.

Mr. Golden told the jury this morning that he disagreed with the value of services diverted by the alleged actions of Justice Orie Melvin and Janine Orie presented by the prosecution's expert last week.

Detective Jackelyn Weibel, who works for the Allegheny County District Attorney's office, estimated the value at $33,475.

But Mr. Golden said that Detective Weibel did not properly follow her own methodology in reaching that value.

"By not following it, she increased the total amount of services diverted," he said. "It's important in investigations to be consistent."

Further, Mr. Golden told the jury, a thorough investigation would have required Detective Weibel to corroborate testimony of prosecution witnesses who said that they spent a certain portion of their workday performing political tasks.

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Paula Reed Ward: or 412-263-2620. First Published February 13, 2013 6:00 AM


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