Melvin jury finishes deliberations for the day, will resume on Tuesday
Lawyers for suspended state Supreme Court Justice Joan Orie Melvin and her administrative assistant Janine Orie described the sisters as hardworking, courageous and respectful women.
Prosecutors told jurors hearing their corruption trial that the sisters' close relationship turned into a criminal enterprise when they conspired to use state-paid employees for Melvin's judicial campaigns.
“Family ties is an admirable quality. But family ties can become criminal ties,” Assistant District Attorney Lawrence Claus said on Friday during closing arguments in the trial in the Allegheny County Courthouse. “That's taking family ties too far. That's not what the law allows.”
Defense attorney Patrick A. Casey denied Melvin broke any laws.
“Joan Orie Melvin got the work done. She served her job. She ran her campaign with political professionals, and she paid for it with private funds,” Casey said.
Jurors deliberated for two hours before going home for a three-day weekend. They will resume on Tuesday because the courts are closed on Monday for Presidents Day.
Melvin, 56, of Marshall and Orie, 58, of McCandless are accused of conspiring to misuse the judge's state-paid Superior Court staff for Melvin's 2003 and 2009 campaigns for Supreme Court. Prosecutors also accuse them of using the employees of a third sister, former state Sen. Jane Orie, R-McCandless, for political work. A judge in June sentenced Jane Orie to 2 1⁄2 to 10 years in prison on similar charges involving her office. A jury acquitted her of using staffers to work on Melvin's campaigns.
Melvin's husband, Greg, and their five daughters sat in the front row of the packed courtroom for the trial's 15th day. Melvin, wearing a plum-colored blazer, watched jurors' reactions as attorneys addressed them for more than two hours.
Melvin faces seven counts, including four felonies. Orie faces four counts, including one felony.
Casey said the evidence against Melvin “falls woefully short.” He argued that prosecutors failed to prove illegal campaign work took place because the witnesses agreed that Melvin's staffers completed their judicial work. He also said Melvin's office spent less money than most of the other Superior Court offices, including during election years.
“If all this is true, and they were unanimous in saying that, how could there have been this campaign work to the degree they say it was going on?”
Janine Orie's attorney, James DePasquale, said his client is being prosecuted because she is a member of the influential North Hills family.
“Is she anything more than collateral damage or a patsy who gets put into this because of her family name?” DePasquale asked.
Casey argued that two key prosecution witnesses lied when they testified about documents. Claus claimed the witnesses “misspoke.”
Jamie Pavlot, the senator's former chief of staff, testified for the prosecution that a Senate intern saw a letter touting Melvin's anti-abortion stance, so she had a second letter written to convince an intern that she was mistaken about the first letter's contents.
Claus called that “blatant” attempt to cover up the truth an example of how the sisters let a small number of people know how the political work was being done.
“The fact that this wasn't carried on in public shouldn't come as a surprise,” he said.
Adam Brandolph is a staff writer for Trib Total Media. He can be reached at 412-398-7543 or abrandolph @tribweb.com.