Joan Orie Melvin to be tried alongside her sister Janine
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Suspended Pennsylvania Supreme Court Justice Joan Orie Melvin will be tried at the same time as her sister, Janine Orie, an Allegheny County judge decided Thursday.
In two separate filings, Judge Jeffrey A. Manning issued an order reassigning the case to a new judge and filed an opinion joining the charges of Justice Orie Melvin and Ms. Orie, who are accused of using the judge's staff to help run election campaigns for the Pennsylvania high court in 2003 and 2009.
The case now will be tried by Allegheny County Common Pleas Judge Lester G. Nauhaus.
Judge Manning presided over two earlier trials relating to the charges in which former state Sen. Jane Orie was charged.
In the first instance, Jane Orie and Janine Orie went on trial together, but that case ended in a mistrial after prosecutors alleged the senator submitted fraudulent documents to the court.
Jane Orie was tried again earlier this year on her own -- Judge Manning separated Janine Orie's charges so she would not be prejudiced by the accusations of forgery -- and was found guilty on several counts, including theft of services, forgery and ethics violations.
She was sentenced to 21/2 to 10 years in prison.
Last week, attorneys for Janine Orie and Justice Orie Melvin, who was charged in May, argued that the two sisters should not be tried together. The district attorney's office filed a motion for joinder, arguing that judicial economy required a joint trial.
The defendants, however, believe that trying them at the same time would be prejudicial.
In his 17-page opinion, Judge Manning disagreed.
"These cases involve the same participants, the same witnesses and the same overarching conspiratorial goal," he wrote. "If they were tried separately, the second trial would be a mere rerun of the first."
In reassigning the case, Judge Manning said it should not be considered a recusal on his part. Justice Orie Melvin had asked twice for Judge Manning to step aside, but each request was denied by him as "wholly without merit."
"Recusal by this court was not warranted in these matters and this reassignment should not be construed as a recusal," Judge Manning wrote. He did not, however, explain in the order why the case is being reassigned.
Justice Orie Melvin's attorneys could not be reached for comment.
James DePasquale, who represents Janine Orie, was disappointed in the court's ruling.
"It wasn't unexpected. It doesn't help Janine," he said. "But I expected that was going to be the end result."
Judge Nauhaus attended last week's oral argument, and Mr. DePasquale suspected the case would be reassigned to him.
As for his client, Janine Orie has been facing criminal charges for nearly 21/2 years, and her attorney believes it will be early next year before they go to trial.
"Who wants to have this hanging over him or her for more than three years. It's terrible stress," he said. "It wears on everybody."
First Published August 24, 2012 12:00 am