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Janine Orie ordered destruction of campaign documents, longtime Melvin secretary testifies

| Tuesday, Feb. 5, 2013, 10:46 a.m.
Pennsylvania Supreme Court Justice Joan Orie Melvin speaks to reporters outside Pittsburgh Municipal Court after a hearing in May on charges she illegally used her state-funded staff to perform campaign work. AP

A longtime secretary for state Supreme Court Justice Joan Orie Melvin said Tuesday that Melvin's sister ordered her to delete political files from her state computer after Allegheny County prosecutors began investigating another sister, former state Sen. Jane Orie.

Katherine Squires told the jury that after it became known that District Attorney Stephen A. Zappala Jr. was investigating allegations the senator's staff was doing political work for Melvin's benefit, Janine Orie directed her to get rid of any campaign materials on her computer in Melvin's judicial office. Janine Orie functioned as Melvin's office manager and as a secretary.

“I came in to work and Janine left me a note to delete all campaign files on my computer,” said Squires, 53, of Lincoln Place. “I still had floppy disks as a backup, and I gave them to Janine.”

Squires gave her testimony on the eighth day of the corruption trial for Melvin, 56, of Marshall and her sister Janine Orie, 58, of McCandless. They are charged with using the judge's staff and equipment when Melvin was campaigning for the high court in 2003 and 2009. Both pleaded not guilty to all charges.

The trial before Common Pleas Judge Lester G. Nauhaus started on Jan. 25. Assistant District Attorney Lawrence Claus told the judge he expected to finish the government's case by Thursday.

“Do we have the note?” said Janine Orie's attorney, James DePasquale.

“I don't know what happened to the note,” Squires said.

“Did you ask why she wanted it off the computer?” DePasquale asked.

“No, I didn't ask her,” Squires said.

At times Squires' testimony prompted Janine Orie to shake her head, most noticeably when Squires said campaign work during the 2009 election year began in the office as early as January.

Janine Orie initially went to trial in a joint case with the senator in 2011, but the case ended in a mistrial. Zappala retried Jane Orie separately, and a jury convicted her in March on 14 counts.

Squires and Cathy Skidmore, a former Melvin law clerk, told the jury they took occasional trips during lunch to Allegheny Valley Bank, Downtown, to deposit campaign contribution checks into Melvin's campaign account. Both also said they worked a polling place on Election Day 2003 when Melvin first ran for the high court.

Questioned by the defense, Skidmore said she saw little politicking in the office and the political work she did on state time Janine Orie directed her to do.

“My client in seven years never gave you a directive to do anything political?” Melvin's attorney, Daniel Brier, asked.

“I don't believe so,” said Skidmore, 52, of Venetia in Washington County.

Bobby Kerlik and Adam Brandolph are staff writers for Trib Total Media. Kerlik can be reached at 412-320-7886 or bkerlik@tribweb.com. Brandolph can be reached at 412-391-0927 or abrandolph@tribweb.com.

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