Melvin to soon learn fate
An Allegheny County grand jury investigating state Supreme Court Justice Joan Orie Melvin will hear testimony this morning as a deadline on recommending charges nears.
The grand jury's two-year term expires by the end of the month, increasing the likelihood that District Attorney Stephen A. Zappala Jr.'s office would decide on charges, legal experts say. A previous grand jury recommended charges against two of Melvin's sisters -- former Melvin aide Janine Orie and Republican state Sen. Jane Orie of McCandless -- for using state staff for political work.
Melvin, 56, of Marshall could not be reached for comment. Her attorney, J. Alan Johnson, and her brother Jack Orie, an attorney who has frequently acted as the family's unofficial spokesman, did not return phone calls.
Melvin received formal notification that she was a target of the grand jury and a subpoena to appear before it in December. It's not clear whether the grand jury heard from Melvin, a former prosecutor and Allegheny County judge who was elected to the high court in 2009.
"One of the things that happens inside of a grand jury is people in a grand jury feel like they want to accomplish something, and they actually put pressure on the lawyers to do something," said Patrick Thomassey, a defense attorney and former prosecutor who is not involved in the case. "Grand juries themselves feel like they want to finish what they started."
Zappala spokesman Mike Manko declined to comment.
The district attorney charged Melvin's sisters in April 2010, accusing them of using Jane Orie's staff to perform campaign work. A jury in March convicted Orie, 50, of 14 charges, and she is expected to resign her seat by Monday. Janine Orie, 57, is awaiting trial.
The Ories have accused Zappala, a Democrat whose father is a former Supreme Court chief justice, of playing politics with the prosecution. Zappala has denied that.
University of Pittsburgh law professor John Burkoff believes Melvin will be charged because of evidence prosecutors aired.
"Based on everything contained in the presentment relating to her sister, Janine, it's surprising she hasn't been indicted already," he said.
Former Melvin law clerk Lisa Sasinoski testified in December at a preliminary hearing against Janine Orie that she did political work on state time, including working the polls on Election Day and writing speeches. A grand jury report against Orie mentioned Melvin's name more than her sister's and painted a picture of a judicial office immersed in partisan politics for almost two decades.
Sasinoski's attorney, Charles Porter, would not say whether his client testified before the grand jury investigating Melvin.
Critics called on Melvin to step down in recent months. She has recused herself from hearing appeals involving Allegheny County cases.
Duquesne University law professor Bruce Ledewitz, who called for Melvin to resign, said he expects action soon because of the grand jury's expiration.
"Justice Orie Melvin was essentially an unindicted co-conspirator, as I read (Janine Orie's presentment)," Ledewitz said. "I'd say if there's no presentment by the end of the month, she's not going to be indicted."
Attorney Martin Dietz, who is not involved in the case, does not expect prosecutors to take the case to another grand jury.
"They don't often do that unless new evidence comes to light," Dietz said. "This investigation has gone on so long, I think it's unlikely they'd do that in this case."
Show commenting policy
TribLive commenting policy
You are solely responsible for your comments and by using TribLive.com you agree to our Terms of Service.
We moderate comments. Our goal is to provide substantive commentary for a general readership. By screening submissions, we provide a space where readers can share intelligent and informed commentary that enhances the quality of our news and information.
While most comments will be posted if they are on-topic and not abusive, moderating decisions are subjective. We will make them as carefully and consistently as we can. Because of the volume of reader comments, we cannot review individual moderation decisions with readers.
We value thoughtful comments representing a range of views that make their point quickly and politely. We make an effort to protect discussions from repeated comments either by the same reader or different readers.
We follow the same standards for taste as the daily newspaper. A few things we won't tolerate: personal attacks, obscenity, vulgarity, profanity (including expletives and letters followed by dashes), commercial promotion, impersonations, incoherence, proselytizing and SHOUTING. Don't include URLs to Web sites.
We do not edit comments. They are either approved or deleted. We reserve the right to edit a comment that is quoted or excerpted in an article. In this case, we may fix spelling and punctuation.
We welcome strong opinions and criticism of our work, but we don't want comments to become bogged down with discussions of our policies and we will moderate accordingly.
We appreciate it when readers and people quoted in articles or blog posts point out errors of fact or emphasis and will investigate all assertions. But these suggestions should be sent via e-mail. To avoid distracting other readers, we won't publish comments that suggest a correction. Instead, corrections will be made in a blog post or in an article.
- Adjuncts at Robert Morris seek election to organize union
- Penguins’ Ehrhoff being tested for concussion
- LaBar: WWE not backing down from controversy
- McCord to TV reporter: ‘I look forward to talking about’ resignation
- 2 firefighters injured battling Munhall blaze
- Charge dropped against former Steeler Blount after community service
- First Draft: Local brewers craft friendships, hash out new recipes
- Officials identify man, woman killed in apparent Oakland murder-suicide
- Charges expunged against Butler County man in ’61 lunch-counter protest
- E-cigs save lives
- Fayette coroner’s office at scene of truck-car crash on Route 51