Orie Melvin, sister guilty of corruption, put on house arrest

Orie Melvin given order for creative apology

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Former state Supreme Court Justice Joan Orie Melvin won't go to prison. In fact, the only incarceration she'll serve will be inside her own home.

But the sentence handed down Tuesday by Allegheny County Common Pleas Judge Lester Nauhaus carries with it humiliation: At the judge's order, Orie Melvin posed before the county photographer, in handcuffs. She must write notes of apology on the photograph and send one to every jurist in the state. A copy of the photo was not immediately available.

"You brought shame to the judiciary," Judge Nauhaus said in announcing his sentence of three years' house arrest. "There are 500 members of the judiciary who have been tarnished by your behavior."

Orie Melvin, who attended the hearing with several members of her family, including her husband, did not comment on the punishment, which also includes two years of probation, and service three days a week at a soup kitchen. A devout Catholic, she will be permitted to attend church services.

Her attorneys also refused to comment. They have said in the past that they plan to appeal the verdict, in which Orie Melvin was convicted on six counts, including three felonies, for misusing her judicial staff and that of her sister, former state Sen. Jane Orie, to campaign for her in 2003 and 2009.

Another sister, Janine Orie, who was found guilty during the same trial as Joan Orie Melvin, was ordered by Judge Nauhaus to serve one year of house arrest, also to be followed by two years' probation.

Despite a request from assistant district attorney Lawrence Claus to send the women to prison -- he called what they did a "perversion of a court office" -- Judge Nauhaus discounted the idea.

"I have always believed prison is for dangerous people," he said. "I also believe putting you in prison is going to cost the taxpayers a fortune."

Still, Judge Nauhaus delivered a blistering lecture to Orie Melvin, telling her that her actions ruined the staffs of both her chamber and that of her senator sister.

"I don't believe that Joan Melvin is an evil person. I've never believed that," he said. "But I do believe that her arrogance is stunning."

Later, he continued, "You ruined an awful lot of people. This was not a single error in judgment."

Throughout the hearing, he repeatedly referred back to the idea of arrogance.

He asked Mr. Claus, "Do you think, had she not done any of these things, she wouldn't have won? What are we talking about -- $34,000 in a $1 million campaign?"

"The term arrogance comes to mind," Mr. Claus answered.

"Is arrogance a crime?" Judge Nauhaus responded.

Later, he continued, his voice getting louder, "There was no reason for this. There was no earthly reason to do any of this."

Judge Nauhaus said he wanted Orie Melvin's pension fund to be depleted and ordered her to pay $55,000 in fines and court costs.

He also issued a prohibition on her using the title "justice" during the duration of her punishment and ordered her to send letters of apology to former members of her campaign staff and that of her sister, whom she made engage in illegal work.

Janine Orie, too, was ordered to write letters of apology to staff and her family members.

Her defense attorney, James DePasquale, did not offer any witnesses on her behalf.

"The commonwealth refers to her as the linchpin," he said. "She was not the linchpin. She was the secretary. She was not some independent mover."

For her part, Janine Orie only spoke briefly.

"I'm sorry for everything that's happened in this case," she said.

In addressing her, Judge Nauhaus said Janine Orie "is not the innocent lamb the defense has made her out to be. ... That's not the case I heard. She was knee-deep in this conspiracy."

During the presentation of Orie Melvin's case, the defense called three witnesses, including the woman's brother, her third-eldest child and a Franciscan priest.

When it was her turn to speak, Orie Melvin faced the gallery to look at her children, saying that the most important job she'd ever had was being a mother to her five daughters and one son.

"I have always prided myself on being a role model to my children," she said. "I'm sorry for the loss, pain and suffering you have endured for the last five years."

Later, Judge Nauhaus returned back to that statement.

"You have damaged your family," he said. "They have to live with this. What kind of role model are you? These are felonies. This isn't a parking ticket. Your children's mother is a convicted felon."

He chastised her for failing to accept responsibility for her actions, even though she submitted a letter of resignation to the governor effective May 1.

"I honestly believe, in your heart of hearts, you don't believe you did anything wrong," Judge Nauhaus said.

As to the defense argument at trial that Orie Melvin did taxpayers a favor by not taking a car allowance or accepting pay raises, Judge Nauhaus called it nothing more than "political showboating."

During the sentencing hearing, Judge Nauhaus had a representative from the state adult probation office explain electronic monitoring to those in the courtroom. He noted that the defendant is confined to the house -- not the porch or yard -- and said that if there is a violation, his office is notified immediately.

After the sentencing, Orie Melvin's husband, Greg Melvin, attacked Judge Nauhaus and Judge Jeffrey A. Manning, who presided over the trials of Jane Orie.

"These two are the most corrupt judges in Allegheny County" he said. "They kept the truth out."

Mr. Melvin, executive vice president and chief investment officer of investment firm C.S. McKee, said that Judge Manning declared a mistrial in the first trial of Jane and Janine Orie because he had heard that the jury was going to find them not guilty.

"He knew it wasn't going well and that's why he declared a mistrial."

Mr. Melvin questioned the testimony of a key witness in the case, Jamie Pavlot, regarding a phone call she said she received instructing her to remove documents from the then-senator's office.

"The records say the phone call never happened," he said.

He also accused the Allegheny County district attorney's office of doctoring the documents that led to a forgery charge in Jane Orie's case.

District Attorney Stephen A. Zappala Jr. said in a release: "Personal attacks are routine in public corruption prosecutions, I accept that. Both convicted felons, Melvin and Orie, manufactured their story and personal attacks only after it was clear that their crimes had been reported to then-Pennsylvania Attorney General Tom Corbett's office."

He said that her failure to apologize "reflects the arrogance of which Judge Nauhaus spoke so forcefully."

George Parry, a former state and federal prosecutor in Philadelphia, called it creative sentencing, but said that the requirement to send the photograph and apology to other judges was "over the top."

"This woman has lost her position on the court. She has had to surrender her law license. Her fall has been repeated all throughout the commonwealth," Mr. Parry said. "I would think that would be enough degradation and humiliation for anyone."

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Paula Reed Ward: pward@post-gazette.com or 412-263-2620. First Published May 7, 2013 3:45 PM


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