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DA's office says state Supreme Court should not dismiss Orie Melvin charges

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Thursday, Jan. 10, 2013, 12:58 p.m.
 

The Pennsylvania Supreme Court on Thursday refused to dismiss public corruption charges against suspended Justice Joan Orie Melvin.

The court's one-page order was given without comment. Justice Max Baer, who campaigned against Melvin in 2003, abstained.

Earlier, the Allegheny County District Attorney's Office filed a response to Melvin's petition, saying her argument that her prosecution violated the separation of powers mandated in the state constitution and U.S. Constitution lacked merit and was based on a faulty premise.

“The activity, which happened to be against (the Supreme Court's) order prohibiting political activity, was being performed when the employees were being paid to do the commonwealth's business; and was being carried out with equipment and supplies … to perform her duties as judge,” Deputy District Attorney Michael W. Streily wrote.

Melvin's attorneys Patrick A. Casey and Daniel T. Brier filed the request with her six fellow judges when Common Pleas Judge Lester G. Nauhaus rejected the same argument in December.

“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,” Casey and Brier wrote.

Streily said the consequences of that argument are “frightening to a free society.”

“Supreme Court justices and judges of inferior courts are given a get-out-of-jail-free card in a situation where the average citizen would face criminal charges,” he said. “No judge should be permitted to misappropriate commonwealth resources to further her political career and then shelter herself from criminal prosecuting saying that the theft is insulated because of the context in which it occurred.”

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, 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 2½ to 10 years in prison.

The Republican Orie family has said the charges are politically motivated. District Attorney Stephen A. Zappala Jr., a Democrat, denies that.

Adam Brandolph is a staff writerfor Trib Total Media. He canbe reached at 412-391-0927 or abrandolph@tribweb.com.

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