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Melvin attorney gives 20 reasons for former state Supreme Court Justice's appeal

| Thursday, June 6, 2013, 4:03 p.m.
Keith Hodan | Tribune-Review
Leaving the Allegheny County Courthouse, former state Supreme Court Justice Joan Orie Melvin flashes a smile after being sentenced to house arrest Tuesday, May 7, 2013.

Former state Supreme Court Justice Joan Orie Melvin intends to ask an appeals court to determine whether her prosecution constituted a breach of the separation of government powers and whether an Allegheny County judge should have stepped aside.

They are two of 20 issues that attorney Patrick A. Casey listed as reasons Melvin is appealing her February conviction on public corruption charges.

Casey, one of two attorneys who represented Melvin at trial, filed a six-page statement with the Pennsylvania Superior Court late Wednesday outlining questions he plans to raise. The Tribune-Review obtained a copy on Thursday.

The issues include:

• Whether Common Pleas Judge Lester G. Nauhaus erred by failing to grant her request for a judge from another county;

• Whether some charges breached the separation of powers;

• Whether the Allegheny County District Attorney's Office conducted an overly broad search when detectives seized her personal and campaign email accounts;

• Whether Nauhaus erred by failing to allow Melvin to show how her work productivity compared to her peers on the court;

• Whether there was enough evidence to support convictions;

• Whether Nauhaus should have discontinued jurors' deliberations when they couldn't agree on one charge;

• And whether part of her sentence — that she write letters of apology to her family and former staff and send a photograph of herself in handcuffs signed “I'm sorry” to the state's 500 judges — is illegal.

John Burkoff, a criminal law professor at the University of Pittsburgh, said Casey likely raised many issues in order to preserve them when he files the actual appeal.

“If you don't raise an issue, you're deemed to have waived it, so lawyers often raise everything,” Burkoff said.

Even if Superior Court finds that Nauhaus erred in some way, Melvin's attorney must prove that it made a difference in the verdict. Burkoff said judges often make mistakes, but those mistakes usually don't affect the outcome.

Mike Manko, a spokesman for District Attorney Stephen A. Zappala Jr., declined to comment. Casey did not return calls.

A jury found Melvin, 57, of Marshall guilty of six counts, including three felonies. The jury found her sister and former administrative assistant, Janine Orie, 59, of McCandless guilty on six counts.

The sisters were accused of using the justice's Superior Court staff and the legislative staff of a third sister, former state Sen. Jane Orie, to run Melvin's campaigns for Supreme Court in 2003 and 2009. Jane Orie, convicted in a separate trial, is serving a prison sentence.

In addition to requesting the letters, Nauhaus sentenced Melvin to three years of house arrest followed by two years of probation and ordered her to pay $128,000 in fines, restitution and court costs. He sentenced Janine Orie to one year of house arrest and two years of probation. Melvin resigned her seat on the bench on May 1.

A hearing on Melvin's appeal is scheduled for July 19, court records show.

Adam Brandolph is a Trib Total Media staff writer. Reach him at 412-391-0927 or abrandolph@tribweb.com.

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