Judge denies Orie Melvin's legal arguments
An Allegheny County judge on Friday denied a motion by suspended state Supreme Court Justice Joan Orie Melvin in which she claimed that she should not face criminal prosecution because of her position in the judiciary.
Judge Lester G. Nauhaus listened to argument from defense counsel on the issue during a pretrial hearing but repeatedly interrupted.
"Let me get this right. Because Joan Orie Melvin is a Supreme Court justice, she's above the law? She's charged with stealing office supplies," the judge said. "She's not charged with violating a Supreme Court rule about political activity."
Defense attorney Donna Walsh told the judge that many of the seven counts against her client are based upon political activity alleged by the prosecution, including speech writing by her staffers.
"The [Pennsylvania] Constitution vests the Supreme Court with exclusive authority to regulate that conduct," she said.
Ms. Walsh said the Supreme Court, and its Judicial Conduct Board have authority in that situation.
But Judge Nauhaus disagreed.
"It's not a question of one or the other," the judge said.
"Yes, it is your honor," she answered
"No, it's not," he replied. "We're talking about alleged criminal behavior, and you're telling me the executive branch can't do anything about criminal behavior?"
Ms. Walsh told the judge that the justice can't be prosecuted for the conduct of her staff, but he disagreed.
The basis of the charges, Judge Nauhaus said, is that Justice Orie Melvin's staff was paid with public funds to do a certain job.
Assistant District Attorney Lawrence Claus agreed, saying that it amounts to theft of services.
The defense also tried to argue that the statute of limitations on the charges had expired because Justice Orie Melvin should not be characterized under the law as a public employee -- which extends the time period. Instead, Ms. Walsh argued, she should be considered a judicial employee.
Again, Judge Nauhaus disagreed.
"It's a public office, isn't it? We all got our jobs through elections. You can't argue the judiciary is not paid by public funds."
Justice Orie Melvin is scheduled to go to trial next month on charges that she used her staff and state-funded resources to run for election on the state Supreme Court in 2003 and 2009.
First Published December 22, 2012 12:00 am