Pennsylvania Justice Melvin's defense grills central witness
Jamie Pavlot spoke with investigators from the Allegheny County district attorney's office at least five times and gave sworn testimony at least five more times before she remembered one of the most damning pieces of evidence in the criminal case against suspended state Supreme Court Justice Joan Orie Melvin.
Justice Orie Melvin's defense attorney, Dan Brier, focused during cross-examination Tuesday on Ms. Pavlot's failure to mention that crucial evidence until late in the trial of the justice's sister, former state Sen. Jane Orie, as well as inconsistencies in statements she has made over the course of multiple judicial proceedings.
Ms. Pavlot, who served as Jane Orie's chief of staff, remembered a phone call in which she was ordered by Jane Orie and Joan Orie Melvin to remove political material from boxes she was taking from the senator's legislative office, when she was on re-direct examination last year during the senator's trial.
Ms. Pavlot, a key witness in the case who was granted immunity, reiterated that important evidence this week in the ongoing criminal trial of the justice and her sister, Janine Orie, telling jurors that she received a phone call in November 2009 from Jane Orie and Justice Orie Melvin ordering her to remove the materials. The Orie sisters are accused of using Jane Orie's Senate staff and the judge's judicial staff to campaign for Justice Orie Melvin for the high court in both 2003 and 2009.
Mr. Brier asked Ms. Pavlot about her sudden recollection of the phone call.
"You never once testified that my client and her sister called you in early November and told you to take documents out of the boxes?" Mr. Brier asked.
"Yes," Ms. Pavlot answered.
"It never came to your mind in 2009, '10, or '11 that phone call was made to you?" he continued.
"No," she replied.
He went back to the issue a short time later.
"It's your testimony you didn't tell anyone about the phone call before 2012 because you didn't think of it before then?" Mr. Brier asked.
Although he got Ms. Pavlot to admit she had not spoken of the phone call earlier, Mr. Brier was repeatedly cut off by objections from Assistant District Attorney Lawrence Claus for the way he was attempting to impeach the credibility of Ms. Pavlot.
The objections were routinely sustained by Allegheny County Common Pleas Judge Lester G. Nauhaus. The judge also ruled in the prosecution's favor when Mr. Brier attempted to question Ms. Pavlot about a federal lawsuit she filed in 2010.
Earlier this month Mr. Brier asked for and was granted a decision in U.S. District Court seeking to confirm that Ms. Pavlot was the same person who filed a federal lawsuit that year in which she claimed "severe physical and emotional distress" from January 2009 to August 2010.
However, when Mr. Brier attempted to use the lawsuit in his cross-examination, Mr. Claus repeatedly objected and won.
Finally, Mr. Brier asked the witness, "You had severe physical and emotional distress?"
Ms. Pavlot also admitted that even though she met with the district attorney's office several times after she filed the federal lawsuit, she never told them about it.
In trying to explain inconsistencies in her testimony, Ms. Pavlot characterized those meetings with the DA's office as intimidating.
"The process they put me through was extremely intimidating," she said. "I had never been through anything like this. I was scared."
Ms. Pavlot told the jury of nine women and three men in the Orie Melvin trial that it was her decision to remove the two boxes in question from the senate office the weekend after the investigation began in 2009.
"My client, Joan Orie, didn't ask you to do that, did she?" Mr. Brier asked.
"No, sir," Ms. Pavlot answered.
She answered the same way when asked if either Jane Orie or Janine Orie instructed her to do so.
Ms. Pavlot turned the boxes over to her own attorney, Stephen S. Stallings, on Nov. 6, 2009.
After that, Ms. Pavlot said, she took additional files from the Senate office by hiding them under her coat.
"Were you removing files out of the office under your coat after you were meeting with the district attorney?" Mr. Brier asked.
"Yes," Ms. Pavlot answered. "The senator told me to."
Defense attorney James DePasquale, who represents Janine Orie, spent more than 90 minutes of his cross-examination of Ms. Pavlot going over the individual emails sent between her and his client. For each message, he asked her about how long it took her to read it and respond.
Ms. Pavlot repeatedly answered "one minute." Mr. DePasquale told the jury in his opening statement that Janine Orie's work for the judge always got done, and that any campaign work she was involved with was negligible.
First Published January 30, 2013 12:00 am