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Janine Orie ordered to stand trial

| Friday, Dec. 30, 2011

The former chief law clerk for state Supreme Court Justice Joan Orie Melvin told a judge Thursday that she did political work on state time -- from speech writing to working polls -- at the direction of the justice's sister.

Lisa Sasinoski testified during an often contentious three-hour hearing at Pittsburgh Municipal Court for Janine Orie, 57, who worked as a secretary for Melvin and is facing corruption charges as part of an investigation into Sen. Jane Orie.

"Janine frequently and regularly asked us to fill out questionnaires for political endorsements," said Sasinoski, who has said she was fired in 2003 after complaining of politicking in the office. "I think Janine spent most of her time working on Jane's campaign or when Joan Orie Melvin was running in 2003 (for Supreme Court).

"By 2003, I had been doing a lot of political activity and it was just another day."

District Judge Anthony Ceoffe yesterday ordered Janine Orie of McCandless to stand trial on charges of diversion of services, misapplication of government property, tampering with evidence and criminal solicitation.

Defense attorney James DePasquale said that if any campaign work was done in the office, it was minimal.

"I don't know how anyone can spend a whole day doing campaign work and still get their judicial work done," DePasquale said. "None of that makes any sense to me."

The charges will be added to the pending case against Janine Orie that is scheduled for trial in February, along with Jane Orie, 50, of McCandless. The sisters have been awaiting a second trial since March, when Allegheny County Common Pleas Judge Jeffrey A. Manning declared a mistrial in the first case after finding that the senator's defense submitted forged documents. Melvin, 55, of Marshall, is not charged.

District Attorney Stephen A. Zappala Jr., a Democrat, charged Republicans Jane and Janine Orie in 2010, accusing them of directing the senator's state-paid staff to perform campaign work. Zappala added additional charges against the senator in August and against Janine Orie earlier this month.

Sasinoski testified that Melvin's office was using so much paper for campaign work that on one occasion she and Melvin loaded boxes of paper from the senator's Harrisburg office into Melvin's car to stock up.

"The suspension was actually down on the car. I was concerned," Sasinoski said.

The hearing became heated during cross-examination when DePasquale began asking about Sasinoski's current job as a law clerk for Supreme Court Justice Max Baer.

Baer beat then-Superior Court Judge Joan Orie Melvin for a seat on the state's high court in 2003. Sasinoski left Melvin's office shortly after the loss. Melvin won her seat in 2009.

"You then went to work for the person that beat her, Justice Baer?" DePasquale asked. "When did you start discussing your employment with Justice Baer?"

Assistant District Attorney Lawrence Claus objected, saying, "Justice Baer is not on trial here."

DePasquale later asked that if so much political work was being done in the office, how could the judicial work get done?

"Janine said she got there at 7:30 in the morning," Sasinoski said.

That answer prompted a response from Janine Orie under her breath from the defense table: "How would you know• You were never there.'"

Along with Sasinoski, who is the wife of Common Pleas Judge Kevin Sasinoski, two other current Melvin staffers testified for the prosecution -- deputy staff attorney Molly Creenan and secretary Kathy Squires.

Jane Orie watched the hearing but left without speaking to reporters. Melvin's attorney, J. Alan Johnson, who was also present, declined to comment.

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