Judge irritated by Orie Melvin over her sentence

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Allegheny County Common Pleas Judge Lester G. Nauhaus raised his voice repeatedly and showed plenty of bluster Tuesday as he accused the defense attorney for former state Supreme Court Justice Joan Orie Melvin of cherry-picking the terms of her sentence.

But in the end, he took no action against the defendant, and her sentence for using state staffers to run her election campaigns remains the same.

Judge Nauhaus convened the hearing after he learned from Melvin's probation officer that Melvin had not sent out letters of apology to the members of the state judiciary as required in her sentence, and because she had not yet paid the fines, restitution and court costs he ordered.

Attorney says compliance won't be an issue

Attorneys representing Joan Orie Melvin and her sister, Janine, have questioned the constitutionality of one aspect of the sentence. The presiding judge, however, said he expected them to "follow the rules." (Video by Nate Guidry; 10/15/2013)

Earlier this month, though, defense attorney Patrick Casey filed an emergency motion with the state Superior Court asking for a temporary stay on the apology letters, asserting that to write them would violate Melvin's Fifth Amendment privilege against self-incrimination.

The appellate court granted the temporary stay and has received briefs on the matter.

But Tuesday, Judge Nauhaus chastised Mr. Casey for everything from not following proper court procedure in asking for the stay to attempting to cherry-pick parts of his client's sentence -- which also requires Melvin to serve three years' house arrest and spend three days a week volunteering at a soup kitchen.

Regarding the apology letters, at a hearing May 14, Mr. Casey made an oral motion asking for that part of the sentence to be stayed. He never filed a written motion, though, which the rules require.

"Was a motion filed, Mr. Casey?" Judge Nauhaus asked.

"An oral motion was made, your honor," the attorney answered.

The judge referred to that as a "throw-away."

"A motion was never filed was it, Mr. Casey?" the judge repeated.

"No written motion was ever filed," the attorney answered.

"Thank you. Sit down," Judge Nauhaus replied.

The two then debated whether the motion for the stay should apply to Melvin's entire sentence or only to the portion referencing the apology letters.

"What you're doing is cherry-picking the sentence," Judge Nauhaus said. "In what I referred to at the sentencing as 'stunning arrogance,' the defendants decided which part of the sentence they wanted to comply with and which part they didn't. You don't get that choice as far as I'm concerned."

Mr. Casey responded that he believed the rest of the court's sentence to be constitutional, and so did not challenge the other aspects.

"You want me to resentence your client?" the judge asked.

"No, your honor," Mr. Casey replied.

"You sure?" Judge Nauhaus continued.

"Yes, your honor."

After some argument, the judge accepted Mr. Casey's explanation that the delay in paying the fines and fees associated with the case was caused by how the State Employees' Retirement System handled the matter. At sentencing, the judge ordered the money be paid out of Melvin's contributions to her pension fund. All of it was paid as of Tuesday morning, Mr. Casey said.

At the end of the hearing, the judge said he would let the matter of the stay regarding the letters play out in Superior Court.

"I need you to understand how I feel about this -- about the haphazard way you've handled this," Judge Nauhaus said. "I really, really would like the two of you to follow the rules."

He scheduled a hearing for Dec. 4.

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Paula Reed Ward: pward@post-gazette.com or 412-263-2620. Twitter: @PaulaReedWard. First Published October 15, 2013 11:18 AM


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