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Prosecutors expected to rest today in Melvin case

| Wednesday, Feb. 6, 2013, 12:42 p.m.

Allegheny County prosecutors expect to rest their corruption case on Thursday against state Supreme Court Justice Joan Orie Melvin, capping 10 days of testimony from two dozen witnesses.

The cross-examination of one prosecution witness Wednesday brought a smile to Melvin's face as she whispered something to defense attorney Dan Brier. He had just finished questioning Joanne Tsucalas, a professional fundraiser hired by the 2009 Melvin campaign.

Tsucalas, 61, of Philadelphia said she processed campaign checks and had minimal contact with state-paid Melvin staffers. She said she organized meet-and-greets for Melvin with law firms and when she organized a Melvin fundraiser, Tsucalas had the names of many potential political donors.

Melvin, 56, of Marshall and her sister Janine Orie, 58, of McCandless are charged with using judicial employees and equipment in Melvin's bid for the high court in 2003 and 2009. Both contend they are not guilty. Melvin's attorneys said they expect to begin their portion of the case Friday.

Prosecutors are attempting to prove that state-paid staffers, including Janine Orie, did much of the political work — including providing donor names to Tsucalas.

“These emails from Janine were a very incidental or small part of what you did for Judge Orie Melvin's campaign?” Brier asked.

“Yes,” said Tsucalas, who said she never met Janine Orie in person until Melvin's swearing-in ceremony in January 2010.

Brier showed the jury that at least one donor solicitation card instructed people to send check to Tsucalas' Philadelphia office, away from any state-paid staffers.

University of Pittsburgh law professor John Burkoff said prosecutors sometimes call witnesses who benefit both sides during their part of the case to put that witness in the best possible light for the prosecution because the defense would likely call that witness, anyway.

“It may have been that the witness was a lot better in the office than she was on the stand,” said Burkoff, who is watching the case. “It's also true that the witness says things that benefit the defense as well as the state. We don't know who should be smiling until the case is over.”

Prosecution witness Tracy Kolich also said she had minimal contact with Melvin's state-paid staff. Kolich worked for a private company that Republicans hired to work on Melvin's campaign out of her Harrisburg campaign office. She said on cross-examination that she scheduled political events for Melvin and kept track of Melvin's political calendar.

“So there was an army of volunteers working across the state to get Joan elected?” Brier asked.

“Yes,” Kolich said.

“The first time it was suggested that (Janine Orie) acted like a campaign manager is when you met with the District Attorney's Office?” Brier asked.

“Yes,” Kolich said.

Bobby Kerlik is a staff writer for Trib Total Media. He can be reached at 412-320-7886 or bkerlik@tribweb.com.

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