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Pa. taxpayers paid $33,475 for staffers to work on Melvin's campaigns, accountant testifies

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Thursday, Feb. 7, 2013, 12:42 p.m.
 

Pennsylvania taxpayers shelled out $33,475 to four senatorial and two judicial staffers to work on state Supreme Court Justice Joan Orie Melvin's 2003 and 2009 judicial campaigns, a forensic accountant for Allegheny County prosecutors said Thursday.

Jackelyn Weibel, a District Attorney's detective and certified fraud examiner, told jurors she tried to be “extremely conservative” in determining how much money the staffers from former Sen. Jane Orie's office and Melvin's chambers were paid to work on the judge's campaigns.

Weibel said taxpayers paid $27,700 in 2003 and $5,800 in 2009 for the political work.

Weibel sat in the back row of the courtroom for the past nine days of the trial before Common Pleas Judge Lester G. Nauhaus and said she based her calculations on financial documents and witness testimony. She left out employees whose time she could not calculate.

On cross-examination, defense attorney Daniel T. Brier repeatedly asked Weibel if she tried to corroborate their testimony, whether she checked with the law offices or other organizations Melvin's former staffers said they visited with the judge, or if she took into consideration the time former staffers spent working after regular business hours or on the weekend.

Weibel repeatedly answered “no.”

Weibel was the last of 24 witnesses prosecutors called before resting their case against Melvin, 56, of Marshall and her sister Janine Orie, 58, of McCandless. They 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.

The Supreme Court suspended Melvin on May 18, and the state Court of Judicial Discipline halted her $195,309 annual salary in August.

After Nauhaus dismissed the jury for the day, attorneys asked Nauhaus to dismiss one count against Janine Orie and all counts against Melvin, claiming the prosecution did not provide enough evidence. Nauhaus refused.

The defense on Friday plans to call retired state Superior Court Judge Joseph A. Del Sole, and representatives from the Pennsylvania State Employees' Retirement System, the Department of State, the Administrative Office of Pennsylvania Courts and Bulldog Office Supplies.

Janine Orie initially went to trial in a joint case with their sister Jane Orie, but the case ended in a mistrial when prosecutors accused Jane Orie of submitting falsified documents. District Attorney Stephen A. Zappala Jr. retried Jane Orie separately, and a jury convicted her in March on 14 counts. She is serving 2 1 / 2 to 10 years in prison.

Weibel testified at Jane Orie's trial that Orie stole about $34,000 in services by having her staff perform campaign work on state time and saved an additional $340,000 by using her legislative staff for campaign tasks.

Villanova University law professor Anne Poulin said the figures in Melvin's case are “notable, both for the fact that it isn't a huge amount and because the 2003 number is so much greater than the 2009 number.”

“The jury could certainly find her guilty based on this amount,” Poulin said. “The question is whether they will if they think it's insignificant.”

Adam Brandolph is a staff writer for Trib Total Media. He can be reached at 412-391-0927 or abrandolph@tribweb.com.

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