Melvin's former law clerk takes stand against the justice
By Adam Brandolph
Published: Friday, Feb. 1, 2013, 10:34 a.m.
Being the chief law clerk for Superior Court Judge Joan Orie Melvin was more than just a job for Lisa Sasinoski.
The former Allegheny County assistant district attorney, who is married to Common Pleas Judge Kevin G. Sasinoski, spent 13 years at Melvin's side writing opinions, supervising others and helping Melvin in her 2003 bid for a seat on the state Supreme Court.
On Friday, the sixth day of Melvin's public corruption trial, Sasinoski, 55, of O'Hara turned from a “trusted employee” to the state's star witness, describing political work she did.
“I'm ashamed of it. I'm embarrassed that I ever got involved,” she said. “I felt obligated to because you were an employee so it was like a team. Everyone in the office just worked together.”
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 started Jan. 25 and is expected to last 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.
Sasinoski, now a law clerk for Supreme Court Justice Max Baer — Melvin's opponent in 2003 — spent four hours on the witness stand telling jurors how she stuffed envelopes, filled out endorsement questionnaires, updated Melvin's biography, traveled with Melvin to political events and spent an estimated 25 to 35 percent of her time on campaign-related activities, all while juggling her official duties in chambers.
“Did you have any qualms about doing political work in the judicial office?” Assistant District Attorney Lawrence Claus asked.
“Yes, I did, because we were not allowed to,” Sasinoski said.
On one occasion in 2003, a judicial staffer was entering campaign donor information in a spreadsheet on her work computer when she hit the wrong button and lost two days of work. The employee called Sasinoski, who contacted Linda Ollio, the court's local computer IT employee. Ollio found the file, but told Sasinoski she wouldn't restore the document because it was labeled “campaign.”
“She said, ‘I can't be political, I can't allow you to be political and you can't use a court computer to be political,'” Sasinoski said. Ollio is expected to testify later in the trial.
On another occasion shortly before the 2003 election, Sasinoski said Janine Orie told her to duplicate campaign expense reports claiming the senator had traveled with them. The campaign reimbursed Janine Orie, who returned cash to Melvin. The “street money” was used to pay people for driving others to the polls, Sasinoski said.
Fed up and “almost shaking,” Sasinoski said she met her husband for lunch and told him what had transpired.
“He said, ‘Are you crazy? If it doesn't mean enough that you have a law license or it doesn't mean enough that I have a career, I wonder what the kids are going to think when they see your picture in the paper in handcuffs?'” she said.
A few weeks later, on Dec. 8, Sasinoski said she confronted her longtime boss.
“I said this has to stop. ... Judge Melvin looked at me and said, ‘Stop? We've got to kick it up a notch.'”
Sasinoski was fired two days later.
Her testimony will continue on Monday.
Adam Brandolph is a staff writer for Trib Total Media. He can be reached at 412-391-0927 or firstname.lastname@example.org.
Show commenting policy
TribLive commenting policy
You are solely responsible for your comments and by using TribLive.com you agree to our Terms of Service.
We moderate comments. Our goal is to provide substantive commentary for a general readership. By screening submissions, we provide a space where readers can share intelligent and informed commentary that enhances the quality of our news and information.
While most comments will be posted if they are on-topic and not abusive, moderating decisions are subjective. We will make them as carefully and consistently as we can. Because of the volume of reader comments, we cannot review individual moderation decisions with readers.
We value thoughtful comments representing a range of views that make their point quickly and politely. We make an effort to protect discussions from repeated comments either by the same reader or different readers.
We follow the same standards for taste as the daily newspaper. A few things we won't tolerate: personal attacks, obscenity, vulgarity, profanity (including expletives and letters followed by dashes), commercial promotion, impersonations, incoherence, proselytizing and SHOUTING. Don't include URLs to Web sites.
We do not edit comments. They are either approved or deleted. We reserve the right to edit a comment that is quoted or excerpted in an article. In this case, we may fix spelling and punctuation.
We welcome strong opinions and criticism of our work, but we don't want comments to become bogged down with discussions of our policies and we will moderate accordingly.
We appreciate it when readers and people quoted in articles or blog posts point out errors of fact or emphasis and will investigate all assertions. But these suggestions should be sent via e-mail. To avoid distracting other readers, we won't publish comments that suggest a correction. Instead, corrections will be made in a blog post or in an article.
- Garden Q&A: Firecracker vine OK for trellis?
- Starkey: Penguins’ arrogance astounding
- Matt Calvert’s goal in double OT evens series for Blue Jackets
- Draftees’ longevity key for NFL success
- Penguins’ Gibbons scores twice but leaves with apparent injury
- Second-period short-handed goal gives Blue Jackets momentum
- NFL notebook: Pryor will be cut if he’s not traded
- Pair of Braun homers spells defeat for Pirates
- 1 dead, 1 wounded in shooting at Chartiers party
- North Versailles, Murrysville families still waiting for report on 2011 chopper crash that killed couple
- Patients denied as donor organs discarded