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Melvin will not take stand in her defense

| Wednesday, Feb. 13, 2013, 1:57 p.m.

Suspended state Supreme Court Justice Joan Orie Melvin on Wednesday declined to testify in her public corruption trial, and her defense team rested its case after fewer than four days of testimony.

“I have decided not to testify on my behalf,” Melvin told Allegheny County Common Pleas Judge Lester G. Nauhaus, her hands clasped behind her back. She did not explain why.

Her announcement surprised legal observers, but drew no visible reaction from jurors or about 30 people in the packed gallery. When one of her lawyers asked if she was satisfied with her legal representation, Melvin responded: “Beyond my wildest expectations, yes.”

Nauhaus gave jurors Thursday off and scheduled closing arguments for Friday.

The Supreme Court in May suspended Melvin, 56, of Marshall, who has been on trial since Jan. 25 with her sister and former secretary Janine Orie, 58, of McCandless. The state Court of Judicial Discipline halted Melvin's $195,309 salary in August.

“I'm somewhat surprised,” said University of Pittsburgh law professor John Burkoff, who predicted Melvin would take the stand to tell her story since a grand jury in May called the charges a “tale of corruption.”

“It's a very difficult decision for a defendant in this situation,” Burkoff said. “He or she always wants to tell his or her side of the story, but if you testify, you risk the rigors of cross-examination.”

Burkoff said Melvin's attorneys likely believe the case is going their way and there's no need for a “Hail Mary” pass.

“If they thought things were going terribly, then they might take the risk of putting their client on the stand. Apparently, they think their case has gone in pretty well. Whether that's true, we can only know after the fact,” Burkoff said.

Melvin and Orie contend they're not guilty. Orie also opted not to testify.

Prosecutors say the two conspired to misuse the judge's state-paid former Superior Court staff for Melvin's 2003 and 2009 campaigns for Supreme Court. The sisters are accused of conspiring to use the employees of a third sister, former state Sen. Jane Orie, for political work. Jane Orie is imprisoned for a March corruption conviction.

The defense on Wednesday called three expert witnesses to rebut prosecution claims that taxpayer-paid workers spent time on political matters.

A forensic accountant who testified that Melvin effectively stole $33,475 from taxpayers “failed to pursue all leads within a reasonable manner,” a former special agent with the Internal Revenue Service said.

Joseph Golden, who worked in criminal investigations for the IRS and is an adjunct professor in forensic accounting at Drexel University in Philadelphia, told jurors that Jackelyn Weibel, a detective with the District Attorney's Office, did not corroborate witness testimony or ask follow-up questions before plugging numbers into her formula to calculate how much money Pennsylvania taxpayers supposedly paid Melvin's employees to perform political work.

Adam Brandolph is a staff writerfor Trib Total Media. He canbe reached at 412-391-0927or abrandolph@tribweb.com.

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