Former staffer says she regularly scheduled political events for Melvin on state time
State Supreme Court Justice Joan Orie Melvin asked for political help from her sister's Senate staff and requested one worker to analyze political donations paid to an opponent, a former Senate staffer testified Wednesday.
Barbara Brown, who worked in then-Sen. Jane Orie's Harrisburg office from 2001 to 2004 and again in 2008, was the fourth witness for the prosecution in Melvin's corruption trial and spent hours detailing political work she did for her former boss's sister.
“Anytime the judge needed something, we would help with that,” said Brown, of Harrisburg.
Another former aide to Jane Orie, Jason Davidek, told jurors that he drove Melvin to political events, fairs and festivals about 20 times in 2003 during working hours.
“I spent a lot of hours … away from the office,” said Davidek, 33, of Fawn, who worked in Orie's office from 2002 to 2004.
Davidek said he usually met Melvin at the McDonald's in Harmar and drove her car to various locations, including Hazelton, Scranton and two separate trips to Philadelphia, where they attended an NAACP convention and a debate with her opponent, Max Baer.
Davidek said Melvin paid him $300 once. He also was permitted to take comp time in the senator's office.
Brown estimated spending about 50 percent of her time during the 2003 election working on Melvin's campaign for the Supreme Court, while on Orie's public payroll. She described days when she would accompany Melvin to political events such as a 2003 dinner conference in Hershey and a picnic hosted by former state Sen. Bob Mellow, D-Lackawana County. Other times, Brown spent her legislative workday scheduling “meet and greets” for Melvin with Harrisburg law firms and other organizations.
“Sometimes you would schedule an entire day for the judge?” Assistant District Attorney Lisa Mantella asked.
“Yes,” Brown said. “Sometimes I would attend with her.”
Brown said she received comp time for those duties.
Prosecutors say Melvin, 56, of Marshall and another sister, former court staffer Janine Orie, 58, of McCandless, used Jane Orie's legislative office and Melvin's then-Superior Court office to campaign for a seat for Melvin on the Supreme Court in 2003 and 2009. Melvin faces seven charges, including four felonies.
Both pleaded not guilty. The high court suspended Melvin on May 18, and the state Court of Judicial Discipline halted her $195,309 annual salary in August. The trial before Common Pleas Judge Lester G. Nauhaus began Friday.
Brown also testified against Jane Orie, who was convicted of similar charges in March and is serving 2 1 / 2 to 10 years in prison.
Brown took the stand after Jamie Pavlot, Jane Orie's former chief of staff, finished her third day of testimony. Pavlot was the prosecution's star witness in Jane Orie's trial.
Mantella showed the jury a February 2004 email from Melvin to Brown asking her to analyze campaign donations to Justice Max Baer of Mt. Lebanon, who beat Melvin for an open spot on the high court in 2003.
Brown testified that she so often accompanied Melvin to political events that she kept two boxes of Melvin's political brochures under her desk so she could grab some if she needed to run out to an event with Melvin.
“Did (Melvin) ever say, ‘Thank you for offering, but I can't accept your help?'” Mantella asked.
“No,” Brown said.
As she did during the senator's trial, Brown described one political event she attended with Melvin at the Harrisburg Hilton where she saw Baer. After returning to the senator's office later in the day to do legislative work, she ran into Baer again in a hallway.
“I was concerned. The rules were you do not do political work on state time, but the boss wanted it done,” Brown said. “I was very upset. I called Janine and apprised her of the situation. Janine said, ‘Don't worry about it.'”
Janine Orie sat at the defense table shaking her head as Brown relayed the conversation.
Adam Brandolph and Bobby Kerlik are staff writers for Trib Total Media.