Former aide to Orie Melvin recounts dispute
After Joan Orie Melvin lost her 2003 bid for the state Supreme Court, it took her more than a month before she showed up again in her Superior Court chambers.
When she finally did, on Dec. 8, her chief law clerk, Lisa Sasinoski, went in to talk to the woman about the political work that had been ongoing throughout the election cycle.
"I said, 'This has got to stop. This campaigning has got to stop. I can't do this anymore,' " Ms. Sasinoski testified Friday.
"Judge Melvin looked at me and said, 'Stop? We've got to kick it up a notch.' "
Two days later, Ms. Sasinoski, who had worked for the judge since 1990, was fired.
After a week's worth of testimony focusing on the use of former state Sen. Jane Orie's legislative staff to campaign for now-Justice Orie Melvin, Ms. Sasinoski was the first of the woman's judicial staffers to testify in the ongoing corruption trial.
Ms. Sasinoski, a key witness on the charges against Justice Orie Melvin stemming from the 2003 election, told the jury of nine women and three men that campaign work that year started in January with the writing of letters to Pennsylvania Republican committee members and continued with Lincoln Day dinners, speech-writing and the completion of political questionnaires.
The woman testified that she knew she wasn't to do political work.
Repeatedly, Assistant District Attorney Lawrence Claus asked Ms. Sasinoski why she did it.
"I'm ashamed of it. I'm embarrassed I got involved," she answered. "When it started, it seemed harmless enough."
Later, Ms. Sasinoski continued, "I was hoping the light at the end of the tunnel was this will be done soon and hopefully there wouldn't be any more campaigning."
Ms. Sasinoski said she had grown weary of working long hours and on weekends. But a breaking point came when, just before the general election in 2003, she said Janine Orie gave her instructions to duplicate expense forms to get reimbursements out of the campaign by saying that Jane Orie had accompanied the judge on campaign trips when she hadn't.
As that conversation was happening, Ms. Sasinoski hurriedly told Janine Orie that she had to leave to meet her husband for lunch.
When she told her husband, Allegheny County Common Pleas Judge Kevin G. Sasinoski, what was happening, he reacted strongly.
"He said, 'Are you crazy? If it doesn't mean enough that you have a law license, or it doesn't mean enough that I have a career, then I wonder what the kids are going to think when they see your picture in the paper in handcuffs?' "
Ms. Sasinoski testified that Judge Orie Melvin's 2003 campaign was managed by Janine Orie and that trips to Philadelphia or Harrisburg to listen to oral arguments for the Superior Court were always coordinated with the election schedule to do law firm meet-and-greets or visit county courthouses.
"I wanted her to be successful," Ms. Sasinoski said. "I'm not proud of it. I knew it was wrong."
Just a short time after she was fired, Ms. Sasinoski was hired to be a law clerk to the newly elected state Supreme Court Justice Max Baer, who had beaten Judge Orie Melvin for the seat.
She has worked for him ever since.
During cross-examination by Patrick Casey, which will continue Monday, Ms. Sasinoski admitted that she never reported the illegal political work in Judge Orie Melvin's office.
"I had suffered enough," she said. "I didn't want to be humiliated publicly like I am today. So I stayed quiet, yes."
Mr. Casey repeatedly asked Ms. Sasinoski if she participated in the campaign work voluntarily.
"I would have rather been with my kids," she answered. "There wasn't a death threat. I went because she was my boss."
"You weren't there under duress, right?" Mr. Casey asked.
"It was part of my job," she answered. "I don't know how week after week you cannot help your boss and expect them to keep you around."
First Published February 2, 2013 12:00 am