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Suspended Supreme Court Justice Melvin seeks extra screening of jurors

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Thursday, Dec. 20, 2012, 11:48 p.m.
 

Potential jurors in the corruption trial next month for suspended Supreme Court Justice Joan Orie Melvin may have to answer questions about the intense publicity the case has garnered.

Melvin's attorneys filed a motion on Wednesday requesting Allegheny County Common Pleas Judge Lester G. Nauhaus ask jurors eight questions beyond the standard 16-question sheet. Nauhaus did not set a date for his ruling.

The proposed queries would ask potential jurors whether they've seen media coverage of Melvin's case, the case against her sister and former judicial staffer Janine Orie, or the case against another sister, former state Sen. Jane Orie.

The attorneys also want to know if the potential jurors or anyone close to them has ever worked in a government office, volunteered or worked for a political campaign, been involved in a family business or been accused of improper conduct at work.

Orie Melvin, 56, of Marshall is accused of using her Superior Court office staff, who were public employees, to help her campaign for a seat on the Supreme Court in 2003 and 2009. She faces seven criminal counts, including theft of services, conspiracy, solicitation to tamper or fabricate evidence and official oppression.

Janine Orie, 58, of McCandless will stand trial with Melvin on charges that she also directed staffers to perform campaign work.

An Allegheny County jury in March convicted Jane Orie of similar charges involving her office staff. She's serving 2 12 to 10 years in prison.

Melvin's attorneys requested that the court distribute the questionnaires to all prospective jurors by mail and make the completed forms available to lawyers about a week before jury selection begins on Jan. 23.

Mike Manko, a spokesman for the district attorney's office, declined to comment.

University of Pittsburgh law professor John Burkoff said the proposed questions are interesting but not surprising.

“They give you a sense of the nature of the defense that she would be making,” Burkoff said.

Melvin's attorneys also requested Nauhaus hear the trial in Judge Donald E. Machen's third-floor courtroom because of its audio-visual capabilities and proximity to its jury room.

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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