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Former Melvin campaign workers say they had little or no contact with state workers

| Monday, Feb. 11, 2013, 11:09 a.m.

A key defense witness in state Supreme Court Justice Joan Orie Melvin's corruption trial clashed with the lead prosecutor on Monday over allegations of illegal campaign work.

Michael Long, who headed Commonwealth Strategic Solutions, told the jury that Melvin's campaign hired his firm to run her 2009 campaign for the high court and that he had little, if any, contact with her judicial staffers.

“Who did your staff email, in regards to political questionnaires?” Assistant District Attorney Lawrence Claus asked.

“No one does questionnaires but me; never once,” Long said. “I never spoke to or emailed anyone in the judge's chambers about questionnaires.

“I don't know those people. I didn't know their names until I read them in the paper. It never happened. I don't know what else I can say.”

Long testified for about three hours on the 12th day of the trial. Melvin, 56, of Marshall, and her sister, Janine Orie, 58, of McCandless, are charged with using the justice's Superior Court employees and equipment for Supreme Court campaigns in 2003 and 2009. Janine Orie was a secretary for Melvin.

When Claus confronted Long with emails that prosecutors say contained political directives from Janine Orie, Long replied: “I wasn't directed by Janine to do anything, ever. Keep this in focus, because sometimes I think we lose focus. This was 365-day campaign. Two emails is not a lot.”

Melvin, wearing a dark blue suit, showed little emotion but nodded in agreement during parts of Long's testimony. The crowd that filled the courtroom during the first few days of the trial has dwindled, and many empty seats remained during the second full day of Melvin's defense.

Melvin's husband, Greg Melvin, watched the trial and talked to his wife during at least one break.

Long was one of five defense witnesses who testified, four of whom were paid by Melvin's campaign to do political work.

If any judicial or senatorial staffers did political work, it was insignificant and “wasn't critical to the campaign,” Long said.

“I was the person who ran the campaign,” he said.

Staffers for Melvin and another sister, former state Sen. Jane Orie, testified for the prosecution that they helped put together at least one television ad for Melvin.

John Brabender, an owner of the consulting firm Brabender Cox, testified for the defense that he didn't recall any help from either Melvin's staff or the senator's when his company put together a campaign commercial in 2003.

A jury last year convicted Jane Orie of similar charges. She is serving a prison sentence of 2 12 to 10 years.

Melvin's attorneys will not say whether the suspended justice will take the witness stand. They expect to conclude their case by the end of the week.

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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