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Superior Court stays letter writing part of Joan Orie Melvin's sentence

| Wednesday, Nov. 6, 2013, 1:42 p.m.
James Knox | Pittsburgh Tribune-Review
Convicted state Supreme Court justice Joan Orie Melvin

Former state Supreme Court Justice Joan Orie Melvin does not have to write letters of apology to her staff or the judges of Pennsylvania as part of her sentence in a corruption conviction, a panel of Superior Court judges ruled on Wednesday.

The judges decided that, in part, because Melvin is appealing her sentence, Judge Christine L. Donohue said in the 17-page opinion.

“While the requirement that she write apology letters does not involve potentially incriminating testimony in the courtroom, it nevertheless creates evidence that could possibly be used against her in a later criminal proceeding,” Donohue wrote.

“It is reassuring and revealing that three members of the Superior Court objectively and dispassionately saw merit in the Constitutional argument that the trial court so passionately rejected,” said Dan Brier, Melvin's attorney.

Melvin requested a stay on that portion of her sentence, saying it violated her right against self-incrimination and was “tantamount to a coerced confession.”

She said that “ordering a defendant to write a confession on a photograph of herself wearing handcuffs is both bizarre and abusive.”

The district attorney's office argued that Melvin “launched the proverbial ship” by issuing an apology in court. Assistant District Attorney Michael Streily said sending letters of apology “is asking nothing more than to add another port of call to the appellant's rehabilitative journey.”

Allegheny County Common Pleas Judge Lester Nauhaus said the apology letters did not violate Melvin's right against self-incrimination, although Donohue said that may not be sufficient.

“The trial court's statement does not grant Orie Melvin immunity from prosecution and places no enforceable limitations on the commonwealth.”

Donohue said Melvin's brief statement to her children was not incriminating and “constitutes nothing more than an acknowledgement of her regret that her children have suffered as a result of her legal troubles.”

Mike Manko, spokesman for District Attorney Stephen A. Zappala Jr., said his office will not appeal the issue further.

“Although we don't necessarily agree with the entire opinion, we do concur with the portion that indicates that once these issues are finally decided, the matter could or should be remanded for resentencing,” Manko said.

Melvin, 57, of Marshall was convicted of using her Superior Court seat to campaign for the Supreme Court in 2003 and 2009. She was sentenced to three years of house arrest and two years of probation, and to work at a soup kitchen three days a week. Nauhaus ordered her to write the letters of apology.

A jury convicted Melvin's sister, former state Sen. Jane Orie, 52, of McCandless in March 2012 of forgery, conflict of interest and theft of services. She is serving 2½ to 10 years in prison. A third sister, Janine Orie, 59, of McCandless is serving one year of house arrest for her role in her sisters' schemes.

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

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