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Melvin's bench peer not required to testify

| Wednesday, July 25, 2012, 5:50 p.m.

State Supreme Court Justice Max Baer won't have to testify during the preliminary hearing for fellow Justice Joan Orie Melvin, an Allegheny County judge ruled on Wednesday.

Melvin's attorney, Patrick Casey, subpoenaed Baer, Common Pleas Judge Kevin G. Sasinoski and four administrators to testify and produce documents at her July 30 hearing in Pittsburgh on nine charges that she used her judicial staff to do campaign work.

District Attorney Stephen A. Zappala Jr. and lawyers for the judges and administrators fought the subpoenas, arguing that they were outside the scope of such a hearing, in which prosecutors show whether they have enough evidence to go to trial.

Common Pleas Judge Jeffrey A. Manning tossed out the subpoenas, writing they constituted a “fishing expedition.”

Casey did not return a call for comment, and Zappala's office declined comment.

University of Pittsburgh law professor John Burkoff said Melvin likely was trying to impeach the credibility of witnesses against her.

“It seems that some of what she's looking for might be appropriate once the case is bound over for trial. It makes sense that the judge would say it's premature and overbroad,” Burkoff said.

Zappala's office accuses Melvin, 56, a Republican from Marshall of illegally using her taxpayer-paid Superior Court staff to work on her 2003 and 2009 campaigns for Supreme Court. Charges against her include theft of services, conspiracy and official oppression.

The documents Melvin requested from court administrators include those involving seven people, among them her sister Janine Orie and Melvin's former law clerk Lisa Sasinoski, the wife of Kevin Sasinoski. The records include personnel files and employment records for 25 years.

Lisa Sasinoski works for Baer, 64, a Mt. Lebanon Democrat who defeated Melvin in 2003 for a Supreme Court seat.

Manning ruled that Lisa Sasinoski must appear for the hearing. She testified during Janine Orie's preliminary hearing on related charges.

Manning declined to recuse himself from ruling on the case. Melvin and Manning served together on the county bench from 1990-97.

Manning presided over the trial of another Melvin sister, former state Sen. Jane Orie of McCandless, whom a jury convicted of using public employees for political activity. He sentenced Jane Orie to 2 12 to 10 years in prison.

The Supreme Court suspended Melvin with pay on May 18. She is scheduled to appear Aug. 14 in Harrisburg before the state Court of Judicial Discipline, which will determine whether she will continue to receive her $195,309 salary while fighting the charges.

Bobby Kerlik is a staff writer for Trib Total Media. He can be reached at 412-320-7886 or bkerlik@tribweb.com.

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