Orie Melvin declines to testify, defense rests
Joan Orie Melvin stood in front of the judge, raised her right hand and swore to tell the truth.
Then she announced that she would not testify before the jury deciding her fate.
"I have decided to not take the stand and testify on my behalf," the suspended state Supreme Court justice said.
There was speculation Justice Orie Melvin would take the stand Wednesday. Instead the defense rested after spending most of its time in rebutting the testimony presented by the prosecution -- which argued that Justice Orie Melvin and her sister Janine Orie stole services -- and showing that Justice Orie Melvin was conscientious in trying to reimburse the state for personal usage of things such as her court-provided cell phone.
Janine Orie, who worked as Justice Orie Melvin's administrative assistant, also will not testify or present any evidence.
When Allegheny County Common Pleas Judge Lester G. Nauhaus asked if Justice Orie Melvin was satisfied by the representation of her three lawyers, she replied: "Beyond my wildest expectations, yes."
She left the courtroom Wednesday afternoon smiling.
There will be no court today, and closing arguments will begin Friday morning.
The sisters are charged with misapplication of government funds, theft of services and conspiracy for allegedly using the justice's former Superior Court staff and the legislative staff of another sister, former state Sen. Jane Orie, to run campaigns for the Supreme Court in 2003 and 2009.
An accountant who works for the Allegheny County District Attorney's office estimated the value of services diverted at $33,475 based on testimony provided by staffers who gave an estimate of how much of their workday was spent performing political tasks for the justice.
But the defense responded with Thomas J. Ostrowski, a certified public accountant who reviewed records provided by the Administrative Office of Pennsylvania Courts. He said Justice Orie Melvin wrote checks totaling $1,075 in 2003 for cell phone charges that year when she was running for the high court.
She also paid the state back $155 for an extra night's hotel stay in Philadelphia while she was campaigning, he said.
But under cross-examination by Assistant District Attorney Lawrence Claus, Mr. Ostrowski noted that the cell phone bills for Justice Orie Melvin in 2003 added up to significantly more than that. The total was just over $2,400.
On Wednesday, the defense also showed charts outlining the costs to run Justice Orie Melvin's Superior Court chambers from 2002 to 2009.
The average over that time frame was $82,365 per year. During her political runs in 2003 and 2009, her chambers' expenses were $82,534 and $76,392, respectively.
The prosecution has said her campaign used judicial office supplies -- such as computers, fax machines, printers, copiers and ink -- to the state's detriment.
In addition, the defense presented evidence showing that personal expenses paid to Justice Orie Melvin by the AOPC from fiscal years 2004 through 2008-09 showed that she was well below the median for the judges on the Superior Court -- and at times at the minimum -- collecting less than $5,000 per year.
The last witness called by the defense was Joseph Golden, a retired agent with the Internal Revenue Service Criminal Investigation Division.
Mr. Golden told the jury that he disagreed with the amount presented by the prosecution as the value of services diverted by the alleged actions of Justice Orie Melvin and Janine Orie.
He based his opinion on a number of factors, he said, including that a human resources employee with the AOPC testified that personal staff of Superior Court judges did not have a mandatory minimum number of hours that they were required to work.
Mr. Golden criticized the way calculations were conducted by Allegheny County DA's Detective Jackelyn Weibel, saying she did not properly follow her own methodology in reaching the $33,475 value. For instance, in calculating the value of services provided by a Harrisburg staffer for Jane Orie, Ms. Weibel used a 10-hour workday. However, the state required that staffer to only work 7 1/2 hours per day.
"By not following [the methodology], she increased the total amount of services diverted," he said. "It's important in investigations to be consistent."
First Published February 14, 2013 12:00 am