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Melvin appeal cites actions of prosecutors, judge

| Monday, Dec. 9, 2013, 7:42 p.m.

Attorneys for former state Supreme Court Justice Joan Orie Melvin claim Allegheny County prosecutors overstepped their authority in pursing criminal charges against her and the judge overseeing the case was biased.

The argument came in a 100-page appeal of Melvin's conviction filed last week to Superior Court. The appeal outlines 15 reasons why Melvin's conviction or sentence should be overturned.

Mike Manko, District Attorney Stephen A. Zappala Jr.'s spokesman, declined to comment on Monday.

A jury convicted Melvin, 57, of Marshall of using her Superior Court seat to campaign for the court. Common Pleas Judge Lester G. Nauhaus sentenced her in May to three years of house arrest and two years' probation, to work at a soup kitchen three days a week and write letters of apology on the front of a picture of her in handcuffs.

Nauhaus last month released Melvin from her sentence pending the outcome of her appeal. The Superior Court ruled that Melvin does not have to comply with the photo portion of the sentence.

Melvin's attorneys claim that Zappala overstepped his authority in seeking to discipline judges for breaking court rules because that power is delegated to the Supreme Court.

“This case involves an unprecedented and constitutionally invalid effort by a local district attorney to prosecute alleged violation of a non-criminal, court-imposed restriction on political activity by court employees,” the appeal states.

Melvin's attorneys claim that Nauhaus favored the prosecution in rulings.

“Through his words and actions, the trial court regularly and repeatedly communicated to the jury his belief that the charges against Orie Melvin had substantial merit and that her defense was not worthy of credence,” according to the appeal.

Nauhaus declined to comment.

Among the claims of judicial errors in the case:

• Failing to appoint an out-of-county judge to hear the case.

• Failing to dismiss charges based on alleged 2003 conduct in violation of the statute of limitations.

• Not allowing Melvin to introduce evidence related to the productivity of her chambers.

• Giving the jury additional instructions after deliberations started.

Bobby Kerlik is a staff writer for Trib Total Media. He can be reached at 412-320-7886 or bkerlik@tribweb.com.

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