Former clerks testify at Orie Melvin preliminary hearing
Judge Joan Orie Melvin (right) walks out of the courtoom with her daughter Casey, during a break in testimony today.
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The former chief law clerk of then-Superior Court Judge Joan Orie Melvin said she participated in campaign activities with her boss such as speechwriting and traveling, but it was when she was asked to fabricate vouchers to get street money she had had enough.
"There was absolutely no way I was going to duplicate, fabricate or make up vouchers to steal money out of a campaign," testified Lisa Sasinoski. "I resolved at that point to get myself out of the situation."
She testified today for more than 2 1/2 hours in a preliminary hearing for suspended State Supreme Court Justice Melvin, charged with using her judicial staff to campaign in 2003 and 2009 for Pennsylvania's highest court.
Ms. Sasinoski referred back to an incident just before the 2003 general election when she claimed that Janine Orie, the judge's sister and office manager, asked her to copy receipts and vouchers of her travels with the judge, to make it appear the judge's other sister, Sen. Jane Orie, accompanied them in their campaign travels. In that way, they could get a check from the campaign treasury, write it out to Jane Orie for reimbursement, and she would then in turn provide the campaign cash to be used as street money. She explained that street money was used to encourage and help people get to the polls.
Now an employee of Justice Max Baer, Ms. Sasinoski testified that at the end of the 2003 election season, she told Ms. Orie Melvin that she could no longer participate in political activity. Two days later, she said Janine Orie demanded her court and building ID.
The first witness of the day was Molly Creenan, another of Ms. Orie Melvin's law clerks. Ms. Creenan joined her staff in 1998 and left in April of this year. She testified for about three hours, telling Magisterial District Judge James J. Hanley Jr. in Pittsburgh municipal court that she witnessed extensive political activity in the office by most of the staff, including Janine Orie. Ms. Creenan testified that she filled out political questionnaires from various interest groups but refused a demand in 2003 to work the polls. Because of that refusal, she was instead required to report to the court office to work on election day, even though it was a scheduled holiday, she said.
Ms. Creenan said she was so bothered by the political activity in 2003 that she approached Judge Orie Melvin when she learned years later the woman planned to run in the 2009 election.
Ms. Creenan said she congratulated her on the decision to run, but told her she had concerns about previous political activity and raised the recent conviction of state House Rep. Jeff Habay and the then-ongoing Bonusgate public corruption investigation.
"I said if there's ever an investigation into our office, I would tell the truth," she said. "I didn't really get a response."
She then said that neither Janine nor Joan spoke to her for a long time after that.
Throughout the hearing, Ms. Orie Melvin sat quietly with her hands folded across her lap, occasionally receiving handwritten notes from her daughter, Casey Melvin, who was sitting behind her.
At one point during the testimony, Ms. Sasinoski scolded Casey Melvin from the stand for laughing when the law clerk explained that once during the 2003 election campaign, her daughter had gone missing for a two- to three-hour period while Ms. Sasinoski was stuck in Philadelphia with Ms. Orie Melvin.
"It's not funny, Casey, it really happened," Ms. Sasinoski said.
Ms. Orie Melvin is charged with nine public corruption counts. The hearing is expected to last at least two days.
First Published July 30, 2012 3:01 pm