Defense opens in trial of suspended Pennsylvania justice
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Judge Lester Nauhaus and the attorneys in the public corruption case of suspended state Supreme Court Justice Joan Orie Melvin argued Friday over whether statistics that show the judge was as productive in 2003 and 2009 as she was in non-election years are relevant.
Lawyers for Justice Orie Melvin said that data showing the number of opinions she issued throughout her time on the Superior Court bench -- including years in which the prosecution is trying to prove that the justice, her Superior Court staffers, and those of her sister, former state Sen. Jane Orie, were doing political campaign work -- "is central to the defense of this case."
"So your defense is, 'So what, we were running a good show?' " Judge Nauhaus asked.
After having the jury leave the courtroom so he could hear the arguments, Judge Nauhaus said just because the numbers show Justice Orie Melvin and her staff completed their work doesn't mean they weren't also working on the campaign.
Prosecutors said the data, brought Friday by Superior Court deputy reporter Dolores Bianco, is irrelevant and can't account for the length of opinions, the nature of the cases or whether the opinions were overturned.
Justice Orie Melvin is charged with seven counts, including official oppression, theft of services and conspiracy.
Her attorneys are disputing that services have been taken, and they said the data on the work of the office is critical to their defense.
"The defense is not 'So what?' " said Patrick Casey, one of Justice Orie Melvin's attorneys. "The defense is that it didn't happen."
The first witness called by the defense on Friday was retired Superior Court Judge Joseph Del Sole.
He testified that there was no break in the employment of Lisa Sasinoski, a key witness against Justice Orie Melvin, between the time she stopped working for the justice and started working for newly elected Justice Max Baer in 2003. Wayne Raum, director of the Pennsylvania State Employees' Retirement System member services division, also testified that Ms. Saskinoski's employment was unbroken.
The prosecution contends that Justice Orie Melvin fired Ms. Sasinoski when she said she would no longer participate in political activities.
The defense has said that Ms. Sasinoski quit when she got a job with Justice Baer, who had defeated Judge Orie Melvin in the 2003 race.
Judge Nauhaus dismissed the jury for the weekend about 11:15 a.m., saying he had plans to meet his aunt. He wasn't clear on whether Ms. Bianco would resume her testimony Monday but suggested the attorneys call a summary witness to testify that Justice Orie Melvin and her staff did their work.
First Published February 9, 2013 12:00 am