Melvin defense witnesses say workload proves no politicking by staff
Supreme Court Justice Joan Orie Melvin's lawyers will need to rely on witnesses to rebut corruption charges instead of statistics they say would strike at the heart of the prosecution's case.
Common Pleas Judge Lester G. Nauhaus ruled on Tuesday that data showing Melvin's higher Superior Court workload in election years 2003 and 2009 — when prosecutors say her staff spent time doing political work — are not relevant to her trial.
Defense attorney Patrick Casey argued that the statistics challenge the credibility of key prosecution witness Lisa Sasinoski, Melvin's former chief law clerk in 2003. Sasinoski said she spent large parts of her day doing political work for Melvin.
“The challenge is getting a fair trial in this case,” Casey said.
“I have bent over backwards to give your client a fair trial,” Nauhaus responded. “I'm offended.”
Melvin, 56, of Marshall and Janine Orie, 58, of McCandless are charged with using the Senate employees of a third sister and Melvin's judicial employees and office equipment in her campaigns for the high court. Both contend they are not guilty.
Prosecutors value the theft of services at $33,475.
The Supreme Court suspended Melvin on May 18, and the state Court of Judicial Discipline halted her $195,309 annual salary in August.
Nauhaus' ruling put more weight on the testimony of five defense witnesses, who said they saw no political work done by state-paid staffers.
Robert Woods, a former law clerk for Melvin and chief law clerk for Superior Court Judge Sallie Mundy, told the jury on Tuesday that the workload in Melvin's office was “steady” and “busy,” including the 2009 election year.
“We prided ourselves to be at or near the top,” Woods said.
He testified that nobody asked him to do political work and that he didn't see political work occurring in the office.
The judge's decision not to allow the evidence might be the right one, said Villanova University law professor Anne Poulin, because it's too difficult to measure the amount of work just by how many cases Melvin's chambers completed.
“On the surface it's misleading,” said Poulin, who is not involved in the case. “The office's productivity in these terms doesn't really tell us how much time the staffers were putting in.”
Casey, though, argued the statistics strike at the “very heart” of the prosecution's case.
“If the defendant's chambers was deciding cases in a timely fashion, it's evidence she was unaware of non-judicial work,” he said.
Cindy Kirk, a North Hills Republican committeewoman, testified that she collected signatures for petitions, put out political signs, worked the polls and drove people to the polls in 2003 and 2009. She said she never met any of Melvin's judicial staffers other than her sister, Janine Orie.
Bobby Kerlik and Adam Brandolph are staff writers for Trib Total Media. Kerlik can be reached at 412-320-7886 or email@example.com. Brandolph 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.
- Steelers activate Pro Bowl center Maurkice Pouncey
- Pirates send Decker to Indy to clear roster space for Morse
- Large crowd mourns woman allegedly killed by escapee
- Former Pennsylvania Sen. Richard Schweiker dies at 89
- Broken water main creates sinkhole that swallows truck in Overbrook
- Steelers’ Harrison awaits go-ahead from Tomlin before practicing
- Pittsburgh Police looking for dark blue BMW that hit cyclist in East Liberty
- City Council approves ordinance requiring paid sick leave
- Heroin, marijuana found in car, driver arrested
- Slot cornerback Boykin should give Steelers options in secondary
- Actress Dushku displaced from Pittsburgh hotel by One Direction