Former Senate staffer says she devoted 25 percent of day to judge's campaign
Allegheny County prosecutors took jurors through a fifth day of testimony Thursday in the corruption trial of state Supreme Court Justice Joan Orie Melvin with more staffers for former Sen. Jane Orie who told similar stories of doing political work for the justice.
Former Orie staffers Audrey Mackie and Josh Dott spent most of the day telling the jury how they retrieved political contribution checks from a post office box, kept track of the checks in a spreadsheet and made political cards and letterheads for Melvin on state time. Prosecutors showed jurors numerous emails referencing political work on state time.
Some of the jurors appeared to follow the testimony and evidence closely — staring wide-eyed at the prosecutors and witnesses — but one woman dozed off a few times during the morning. One of the alternate jurors stared at the floor resting his head on his hands. Another juror continually looked around the courtroom.
“When you have email after email, it just gets too much for some people,” University of Pittsburgh law professor John Burkoff said. “The prosecution wants to get their basic pillars in. The novel stuff, Melvin's staff, they're saving. They'll have to make sure the jurors are awake for them.”
Villanova University law professor Anne Poulin said prosecutors have to walk a fine line between boring the jury with too much evidence and introducing all the evidence they need to prove their case.
“The prosecution is trying to show how pervasive it was. They want to show how interlaced the operation was — all three sisters all working for the political gain of the justice,” Poulin said.
Melvin, 56, of Marshall and her sister, Janine Orie, 58, of McCandless are charged with using the justice's then-Superior Court employees and employees of another sister, former Sen. Jane Orie, to run for the high court in 2003 and 2009. Both pleaded not guilty. The trial before Common Pleas Judge Lester G. Nauhaus began Friday and is expected to last about three more weeks.
A jury in March convicted Jane Orie of 14 counts of corruption. Melvin has been suspended from the high court since May 18.
Mackie, 29, of Cranberry testified that she spent 25 percent of her legislative day doing political work to benefit Melvin from the end of 2008 to April 2009, when she told her supervisor she didn't want to do it any longer.
“There were different things in the news with Bonusgate,” Mackie said. “I had come to realize that's what I was doing, and I didn't want to do it anymore.” In Bonusgate, legislative staffers were paid tax dollars with the blessing of leadership to work on leaders' and other lawmakers' campaigns.
Mackie described one instance in which she created cards on her Senate office computer that said “Judge Joan Orie Melvin for Pennsylvania Supreme Court” with Melvin's picture.
“There would be times I would have to print out 100 copies at a time,” Mackie said.
Melvin personally thanked her for her work during one visit to the senator's McKnight Road office, she said.
On cross-examination from Melvin's lawyer, Patrick Casey, Mackie said she did no political work for Melvin in 2006, 2007 and most of 2008.
Fellow Orie staffer Josh Dott, 25, of Shadyside told the jury that he went almost daily to the post office to pick up Melvin campaign checks, entered the values into a spreadsheet and emailed the updated file to Janine Orie — all while on state time.
“I knew it was frowned upon (to do political work on state time). I just didn't know how wrong it was, to the full extent,” Dott said.
Bobby Kerlik is a staff writer for Trib Total Media. He can be reached at 412-320-7886 or firstname.lastname@example.org.