Judge combines trials of Justice Joan Orie Melvin, sister Janine Orie
State Supreme Court Justice Joan Orie Melvin and her sister and former staffer, Janine Orie, will face trial on corruption charges together, an Allegheny County judge ordered on Thursday.
Common Pleas Judge Jeffrey A. Manning said in a 17-page memorandum that neither Orie nor Melvin would be negatively impacted by having their cases tried together. For charges that do not overlap, a jury can follow instructions that evidence against one could not be considered against the other, he said.
In a separate order, Manning reassigned the case to Judge Lester G. Nauhaus, a former criminal division judge who has spent the past 2 1⁄2 years in Orphan's Court. Citing the late state Superior Court Judge Donald E. Wieand, Manning said the reassignment is meant to show the “courage and integrity” of the judiciary.
“Recusal by this court was not warranted in these matters, and this reassignment should not be construed as a recusal,” Manning wrote.
Melvin's lawyers twice asked Manning to step aside because he presided over the trial of former state Sen. Jane Orie, the defendants' sister. Also, Lisa Sasinoski, a prosecution witness, is the wife of Common Pleas Judge Kevin Sasinoski.
University of Pittsburgh law professor John Burkoff said combining the cases was not a surprise because they share common factors and witnesses. But the reassignment to Nauhaus “is a really pleasant surprise.”
“Judge Nauhaus is widely respected as an excellent criminal trial judge. It may well be an assignment that these two defendants will be pleased about because before he became a judge, Judge Nauhaus was on the criminal defense side for decades. He certainly understands the kind of arguments these defendants will be making,” Burkoff said.
Janine Orie's attorney, James DePasquale, welcomed the change.
“If you gave me a list of judges and told me to pick one, I'm sure he'd be in the top three,” DePasquale said.
Melvin, 56, of Marshall faces seven charges, including four felonies, that she used her taxpayer-funded Superior Court staff illegally to campaign for a seat on the Supreme Court in 2003 and 2009. Melvin pleaded not guilty to all charges.
Janine Orie, 58, of McCandless is charged with directing campaign work in Melvin's judicial office and in the office of Jane Orie.
Janine Orie initially went to trial in a joint case with Jane Orie in 2011, but the case ended in a mistrial after prosecutors accused Jane Orie of submitting falsified documents to the court. Jane Orie was retried separately. A jury convicted her in March, and she is serving 2 1⁄2 to 10 years in prison.
The request to combine Melvin's and Janine Orie's cases came from Assistant District Attorney Lawrence Claus, who argued that the majority of the charges against both women are based on the same acts.
The Orie family, which is Republican, has called the prosecution of the sisters politically motivated, a claim that District Attorney Stephen A. Zappala Jr., a Democrat, denies.
Adam Brandolph is a staff writer for Trib Total Media. He can be reached at 412-391-0927 or email@example.com.
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.
- Burrell rollover wreck kills Parks man
- Pittsburgh mayor in Cuba on manufacturing trade mission
- Fayette County man dies in motorcycle accident
- Pirates notebook: Morton’s return to Pirates means Liz leaves
- Consistency keeps Cellone’s Bakery customers coming back
- Cops: Man shoots 11-year-old with BB gun in McKeesport; boy critical
- Pirates pitcher Morton turns in solid performance in win over Marlins
- Class-action lawsuit filed against PWSA for inaccurate billing from radio-controlled meter readers
- With space to spare, Pittsburgh International draws corporate jet carrier
- CMU, Pittsburgh’s Surtrac program aims to ease traffic congestion
- Accident at West Virginia’s Cheat Lake sends boaters to hospital