State Supreme Court Justice Joan Orie Melvin expected to be charged today
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State Supreme Court Justice Joan Orie Melvin is expected to be charged today as a result of a grand jury investigation looking into improper campaign activity, according to a source familiar with the investigation.
The grand jury, which expires at the end of this month, met for more than five hours Thursday. It identified Justice Melvin, a Republican elected to Pennsylvania's highest court in 2009, as the target of an investigation in December, the same month a sister, Janine Orie, was charged with additional criminal counts, including theft of services, criminal solicitation and tampering with evidence, related to doing campaign work for Justice Melvin.
Justice Melvin's attorney, J. Alan Johnson, did not return a message seeking comment late Thursday.
A spokesman for the Allegheny County district attorney's office had no comment.
According to Jim Koval, a spokesman for the state Supreme Court, Justice Melvin continues to hear cases. Under the rules, a sitting justice must inform the chief justice in writing within five days of receiving notice that criminal charges have been filed.
There is no requirement to step down or take a leave of absence, Mr. Koval said. Justice Melvin stopped hearing cases involving the Allegheny County district attorney's office several months ago.
Janine Orie, who worked as an administrative assistant with the justice's office, is on leave from her position.
She was initially charged in April 2010, along with another sister, state Sen. Jane Orie, of using the senator's legislative resources and staff to campaign for both the senator and the justice.
Jane and Janine Orie went on trial on those charges in February 2011, but the case ended in a mistrial when Jane Orie was accused of submitting fraudulent documents to the court.
For the retrial this past spring, Allegheny County Common Pleas Judge Jeffrey A. Manning chose to sever the two women's cases.
Jane Orie was found guilty on 14 of 24 counts against her, including forgery, tampering with evidence, theft of services and ethics violations. She will be sentenced by Judge Manning on June 4.
At Janine Orie's preliminary hearing on the additional charges filed in December, one witness, a former law clerk for Justice Melvin, testified that she was made to write campaign speeches for her boss and drive her to political events throughout the state.
Justice Melvin, who lost her first bid for the state Supreme Court in 2003 to Justice Max Baer, earned her seat on the court in 2009. In that race, she defeated fellow state Superior Court Judge Jack Panella.
Justice Melvin, of Marshall, graduated from the University of Notre Dame in 1978 and Duquesne University law school in 1981.
She became a magistrate judge in Pittsburgh in 1985 and was appointed to fill a vacancy on the Allegheny County Common Pleas Court in 1990. She won her first term in 1991. Justice Melvin joined the state Superior Court in 1997.
When she was elected to the Supreme Court, the balance of the court shifted to a 4-3 Republican advantage.
Throughout Jane Orie's trial, there was testimony about a flier for Justice Melvin's campaign, in which she touted her Catholic upbringing, the support she'd earned of pro-life groups and the importance of a Republican winning the open seat.
Justice Melvin campaigned for the high court on a message of "reform, transparency and accountability."
First Published May 18, 2012 12:00 am