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Attorneys for Joan Orie Melvin file motion asking Pa. Supreme Court to halt her prosecution

| Wednesday, Jan. 9, 2013, 10:04 a.m.
James Knox | Pittsburgh Tribune-Review
Former Pennsylvania Supreme Court justice Joan Orie Melvin was disbarred retroactively to July 12, 2013, the date she went on temporary suspension amid a corruption case.

Attorneys for suspended state Supreme Court Justice Joan Orie Melvin asked the judge's former peers on the high court to block the Allegheny County District Attorney's Office from prosecuting her on public corruption charges.

Melvin's attorneys Patrick A. Casey and Daniel T. Brier say District Attorney Stephen A. Zappala Jr.'s prosecution is “a plain violation of the state constitution” because of the separation of powers of the executive, judicial and legislative branches of government.

In filing for the so-called King's Bench review, Melvin's attorneys want the six remaining jurists to halt the prosecution. The attorneys made the same argument to Common Pleas Judge Lester G. Nauhaus in December, which he rejected.

“There is no doubt that the district attorney's misuse of the police power is an issue of immediate public importance justifying exercise of this court's extraordinary jurisdiction,” her attorneys wrote. “This case involves an unprecedented and constitutionally invalid effort by a local district attorney to criminalize alleged violations of this court's order restricting political activity by court employees.”

Melvin's attorneys filed the 21-page request Monday. Mike Manko, a spokesman for the District Attorney's Office, said his office will file a response Thursday.

Melvin, 56, of Marshall is charged with using staff in her Superior Court office to help her campaign for a seat on the Supreme Court in 2003 and 2009. Melvin and her sister and former judicial staffer Janine Orie, 58, of McCandless are scheduled to stand trial before Nauhaus on Jan. 23. An Allegheny County jury in March convicted a third sister, former state Sen. Jane Orie, of similar charges. She is serving 2 12 to 10 years in prison.

“I very much doubt that the other members of the Supreme Court are interested in asserting extraordinary jurisdiction over any of the pre-trial matters pending in this prosecution,” said University of Pittsburgh law professor John Burkoff, who has been following the case.

Duquesne University law professor Bruce Ledewitz, who has called for Melvin to resign from her seat on the bench, said the Supreme Court has exercised its King's Bench powers in the past, but is not likely to step in on Melvin's case.

Melvin's claim that she violated a judicial code of conduct and cannot be charged criminally “is absurd” and is “not a strong legal claim,” he said.

Ledewitz said the motion should not delay the case. Nauhaus is not required to wait for a response from the Supreme Court before proceeding to trial, he said.

The Republican Orie family has said the charges are politically motivated. Zappala, a Democrat, denies that.

Adam Brandolph is a staff writer for Trib Total Media. He can be reached at 412-391-0927 or abrandolph@tribweb.com

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