Attorneys mum on Supreme Court Justice Melvin's testifying in corruption trial
Attorneys for state Supreme Court Justice Joan Orie Melvin are expected to spend most of the week calling witnesses to convince the jury that she's not guilty of corruption charges. But they will not say whether the suspended justice will testify.
“No comment,” defense attorney Daniel Brier said on Friday as he left the courtroom at the close of the 11th day of Melvin's corruption trial.
Deciding whether Melvin, 56, of Marshall should testify will be tough, legal experts said.
“It's always the most difficult decision a defendant and her lawyer make, especially when it's a white-collar case like this,” said veteran defense attorney Caroline Roberto, who is not affiliated with the case. “Although the jury will be given instructions that the defendant doesn't have to testify, there's an expectation on the part of the jury that someone of that stature will take the witness stand.
“The pitfall is that generally once the defendant takes the stand, the case will rise or fall on her testimony.”
Prosecutors accuse Melvin and her sister, Janine Orie, 58, of McCandless of using state-paid staffers to do political work during Melvin's runs for the high court in 2003 and 2009. Orie worked as a secretary for Melvin. Former staffers testified that Orie acted as an office manager who doled out political chores.
At his two trials, former state Rep. Mike Veon, D-Beaver County, convicted twice on charges connected to the Legislature's Bonusgate politicking scandal, did not testify.
“We've all second-guessed that decision since (the first trial),” said Veon's attorney, Joel Sansone. “On one hand, every juror wants to hear the defendant say, ‘I didn't do it. I'm not guilty.'
“The problem is you open them up to cross-examination, and the prosecution can ask questions for hours. The defendant can have a difficult time answering questions designed to make them look guilty.”
Sansone said Melvin's lawyers would have an opportunity to talk about her accomplishments if she takes the stand, but prosecutors would have many opportunities to pin blame on her.
“The prosecution could say, ‘Look, you're copied on this email (about political work). Here it is in black-and-white. How could you not know?'” Sansone said. “But maybe the justice gets hundreds of emails per day.”
Allegheny County prosecutors called 24 witnesses before finishing their case.
On Friday, Melvin's defense team took over, arguing that staffers were too busy with judicial work to campaign for her.
Brier said he expected closing arguments by the end of this week.
Orie initially went to trial in a joint case with a third sister, former state Sen. Jane Orie, R-McCandless, but the case ended in a mistrial. Prosecutors retried Jane Orie separately; a jury convicted her in March.
Jane Orie testified in her corruption trials, saying she was “sloppy” about separating political and legislative work but what she did was not criminal.
Bobby Kerlik is a staff writerfor Trib Total Media. He canbe reached at 412-320-7886or firstname.lastname@example.org.
Show commenting policy
TribLive commenting policy
You are solely responsible for your comments and by using TribLive.com you agree to our Terms of Service.
We moderate comments. Our goal is to provide substantive commentary for a general readership. By screening submissions, we provide a space where readers can share intelligent and informed commentary that enhances the quality of our news and information.
While most comments will be posted if they are on-topic and not abusive, moderating decisions are subjective. We will make them as carefully and consistently as we can. Because of the volume of reader comments, we cannot review individual moderation decisions with readers.
We value thoughtful comments representing a range of views that make their point quickly and politely. We make an effort to protect discussions from repeated comments either by the same reader or different readers.
We follow the same standards for taste as the daily newspaper. A few things we won't tolerate: personal attacks, obscenity, vulgarity, profanity (including expletives and letters followed by dashes), commercial promotion, impersonations, incoherence, proselytizing and SHOUTING. Don't include URLs to Web sites.
We do not edit comments. They are either approved or deleted. We reserve the right to edit a comment that is quoted or excerpted in an article. In this case, we may fix spelling and punctuation.
We welcome strong opinions and criticism of our work, but we don't want comments to become bogged down with discussions of our policies and we will moderate accordingly.
We appreciate it when readers and people quoted in articles or blog posts point out errors of fact or emphasis and will investigate all assertions. But these suggestions should be sent via e-mail. To avoid distracting other readers, we won't publish comments that suggest a correction. Instead, corrections will be made in a blog post or in an article.
- Fiery Baldwin-Whitehall meeting ends after board member suffers medical issue
- Allegheny County councilwoman Danko dies at 61
- Ruff Ride honors fallen K-9 Rocco by starting trip to D.C. in Pittsburgh
- Ethics report on Allegheny County councilman imminent
- Witness: Driver who caused fatal Route 28 accident ‘came out of nowhere’
- Controller releases report on Allegheny County finances
- Newsmaker: Emilie M. Ray
- Judge rules for railroad in suit over death of Homewood man
- High-speed police chase ends with crash in Ross
- Woman drove over, damaged fire hose while going to store, Penn Hills official says
- Pittsburgh police searching for man who robbed bank in Deutschtown