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Former justice Melvin sentenced to 3 years of house arrest, 2 years of probation

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Tuesday, May 7, 2013, 11:24 a.m.
 

Former State Supreme Court Justice Joan Orie Melvin will pay for her corruption convictions with humiliation and house arrest rather than prison time, an Allegheny County Common Pleas judge decided on Tuesday.

As part of Melvin's sentence, Judge Lester G. Nauhaus ordered a county photographer to take her picture in handcuffs and told her to pay to send a copy to every member of the state's judiciary and to write each an apology.

“You brought shame to the judiciary,” Nauhaus told Melvin and her sister Janine Orie, whom he also sentenced. “There are 500 members of the judiciary who have been tarnished by your behavior.”

A jury in February found each sister guilty of six counts of theft of services, misapplication of public property and conspiracy for misusing public employees to aid Melvin's campaigns for the high court. They deadlocked on one count of official oppression for Melvin.

As Nauhaus pronounced sentence, Melvin, 57, of Marshall was silent and emotionless, just as she was when the jury convicted her in February.

Nauhaus ordered Melvin to serve three years of house arrest in her five-bedroom, 412-bath home, which Allegheny County assessed at $555,000. She'll serve two years of probation and pay $55,000 in fines. She must volunteer at a soup kitchen three days a week.

The judge sentenced Orie, 58, of McCandless to serve one year of house arrest and two years of probation for the role she played in ordering Melvin's judicial staffers to spend time working on the judge's election campaigns in 2003 and 2009. Nauhaus didn't order Janine Orie to pay restitution.

About three-dozen people — mostly family, friends and legal observers — sat in the courtroom during the hourlong hearing. Melvin, wearing a navy suit, did not address the judge but turned to apologize to her four daughters in the front row.

“I'm sorry for all the pain and suffering you have endured in the past five years,” she said. Her husband, Greg Melvin, an investment banker, sat silent behind their daughters.

Orie, wearing a teal blazer and black skirt, appeared relieved and surprised after sentencing. She cried in the hallway afterward and declined comment.

“I'm sorry for everything that has happened in this case,” Orie told the judge.

University of Pittsburgh law professor John Burkoff said Nauhaus crafted a punishment that, while unusual, reflects the judge's thinking behind the purpose of sentencing. “By making her apologize to all of the sitting judges and all of the people on her staff who more specifically were victimized, he is sending to public officials a stark reminder of what can happen to you if you think you're above the law.”

The sentence “is as much to try to be able to deter other public officials as to reflect the severity of what she did,” Burkoff said. “If she had been before a more traditional judge, she would be going to prison very soon.”

Assistant District Attorney Lawrence Claus, who had asked the judge to incarcerate the sisters, said the crime was about more than the $33,000 they diverted from taxpayers.

“This involved people,” Claus said. “People who ended up losing their jobs.”

Nauhaus ordered the sisters to write letters of apology to their relatives and former staff members. After sentencing, he ordered a sheriff's deputy to put Melvin in handcuffs and then had a county photographer take her picture, which she is to include with an apology to every member of the Pennsylvania judiciary.

Melvin must pay to produce and mail the photos, Nauhaus ordered.

Melvin and Orie will be permitted to attend church services during house arrest. Allegheny County Adult Probation will install a monitor inside their homes and fit each with a tracking bracelet within three days. The units cost convicts $5 to $25 a day.

Melvin's Allentown defense attorneys, Patrick Casey and Dan Brier, submitted more than 40 letters supporting the judge. Melvin's brother, daughter and the family's spiritual adviser testified on Melvin's behalf.

“She means the world to us,” Nina Orie, a junior at Brown University, told Nauhaus. “She's the glue that keeps our family together. She's always just a phone call away. She's not just our mother. She's our best friend and confidante.”

The Rev. Scott Steelhaler, a Capuchin-Franciscan priest, said he got to know the family after the November 2011 death of Melvin's sister, Judith Orie.

“The experience she has had throughout the trial and through the verdict has changed her life,” he told the court.

She is only the second sitting state Supreme Court justice convicted of a crime. The other was Rolf Larsen, who got probation for conspiracy in a prescription fraud case in 1994.

Melvin surrendered her law license, resigned her seat on the bench in a letter to Gov. Tom Corbett effective May 1 and will never be eligible to hold public office again, her lawyers said. She might lose her $140,000-a-year pension, although a spokesman for the State Employees' Retirement System declined to comment.

Corbett said he needs to nominate someone who can get at least eight Democratic votes for confirmation in the Republican-controlled Senate. A two-thirds vote is required for confirmation by the 50-member Senate.

“We are looking now at a number of names,” Corbett said.

The seven-member Supreme Court has been operating with six members — three Republicans like Melvin, and three Democrats — since the court suspended her last May. The Court of Judicial Discipline ended her $195,309 annual salary in August.

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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