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Nauhaus says prison costly, taxpayers 'paid enough'

| Tuesday, May 7, 2013, 11:44 p.m.

Former Supreme Court Justice Joan Orie Melvin “should thank her lucky stars” that she isn't being fitted for a prison jumpsuit, a legal expert said Tuesday.

“She was fortunate enough to have a judge who decided he didn't need to sentence her in the kind of typical standard way with a minimum and maximum sentence, but rather he thought about the purposes of punishment in a public corruption case like this,” said John Burkhoff, a University of Pittsburgh law professor.

Allegheny County Common Pleas Judge Lester G. Nauhaus sentenced Melvin, 57, to three years of house arrest followed by two years of probation. State guidelines called for a sentence ranging from probation to 30 months' incarceration.

For Melvin, house arrest means confinement to a 3,600-square-foot house in Marshall. She will be allowed to go to church.

Nauhaus said he decided on the unusual sentence to give a break to taxpayers, who financed a month-long trial. A jury convicted Melvin, a Republican, and her sister, court aide Janine Orie, of using court personnel for campaign purposes.

“I don't believe that Joan Melvin is an evil person, but I do believe that her arrogance is stunning. She's a person of privilege, and unfortunately, she believes she can pick and choose which rules to follow,” he said.

Nauhaus said prison is for “dangerous people.”

“Prison is going to cost the taxpayers a fortune, and frankly, they've paid enough,” he said.

Greg Melvin, the justice's husband, said after the hearing that the district attorney's office fabricated evidence and called Nauhaus and Judge Jeffrey A. Manning corrupt. Manning sentenced a third sister, former state Sen. Jane Orie, to 2 12 to 10 years in prison on similar charges and for falsifying documents at her trial.

District Attorney Stephen A. Zappala Jr. said in a statement that he accepts that personal attacks are routine in public corruption prosecutions but that Melvin's failure to apologize to the court reflects her arrogance. The Ories claimed their prosecution resulted from a political feud with Zappala, a Democrat whose father once served on the high court.

“As to Melvin's statement accusing Judge Nauhaus of being corrupt, unless Judge Nauhaus wants to revisit sentencing, a jury having spoken to this matter and Judge Nauhaus having imposed sentence, I consider this matter closed,” Zappala said.

In Harrisburg, Gov. Tom Corbett, a Republican from Shaler, said he wouldn't second-guess the sentence.

“I know the judge pretty well. I guess (Nauhaus) thought it was sufficient,” said Corbett, the former state attorney general and U.S. Attorney for Western Pennsylvania.

Matt Mabon, 23, of Whitehall, the foreman on Melvin's jury, said he was surprised.

“I was a little shocked by it, just from how the trial went and all the evidence we had and what Jane's conviction was,” Mabon said. “It's not that it's a bad thing. We did our job, and I don't disagree with the judge.”

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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