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Perhaps photos such as Joan Orie Melvin's sentencing shot should be mandatory

| Saturday, May 25, 2013, 9:00 p.m.
Former state Supreme Court Justice Joan Orie Melvin poses for a picture in handcuffs after her sentencing May 7. Allegheny County Common Pleas Judge Lester G. Nauhaus sentenced Melvin to serve three years on house arrest followed by two years of probation. Nauhaus ordered the photo taken and told Melvin to send the photo and an accompanying apology to all 500 judges in Pennsylvania.

HARRISBURG

There's no question ex-Supreme Court Justice Joan Orie Melvin dodged a bullet with a sentence of three years of house arrest rather than prison time.

Melvin would have served some prison time even with a much smaller case, dollarwise, for using her Superior Court staff as campaign workers for her 2009 election to the Supreme Court. Compare that to the huge rip-offs of the taxpayers by Democrat and Republican lawmakers and staff in other public corruption cases. Before a Dauphin County judge, she would have done at least a few months, maybe a year, and deservedly so.

The lame sentence by Allegheny County Judge Lester Nauhaus included a quirky element worth exploring — public shaming.

Handcuffed and photographed, a somber ex-justice, looking sufficiently sad, poses for the camera. At her own expense she must mail that photograph and a letter of apology to every judge in the state.

Should a similar photo be used for top elected officials who betray the taxpayers? Should every incoming freshman legislator get a photo of former House Speaker John Perzel, R-Philadelphia, and former House Minority Whip Mike Veon, D-Beaver Falls, doing their perp walks? Both were eventually convicted of using public resources for campaigns.

It might make an impression that newbie lawmakers would never forget.

The Melvin photo is the modern equivalent of putting people in stocks in medieval and Colonial times, minus the physical punishment. Stocks today would likely be unconstitutional.

While the photo is intriguing, the letter Melvin must write, however, is problematic. Her attorney, Patrick Casey, has filed notice she will appeal.

How does someone who still maintains her innocence and plans to fight the conviction through the appellate courts write a letter saying she is sorry?

Melvin doesn't have much choice. It would take a separate motion to attempt to “stay” her sentence while her appeal is pending.

She could, in theory, be sent to jail for refusing to write the letter or refusing to apologize.

Perhaps the letter could be finessed with a statement that she is appealing but regrets the jury's conviction and the pain she's caused family, friends and people who voted for her.

Much of her house arrest will likely have been completed by the time there is a final decision on her appeal. So much depends on what's an acceptable letter to Nauhaus and how much of an apology he demands.

Some believe Melvin is nuts for appealing. There's a principle here. But she was awfully lucky to get house arrest. Melvin could be sent to prison to join her sister if she wins a new trial, is convicted again, and is sentenced by someone other than Nauhaus.

Ex-Sen. Jane Orie is serving a 2½-to-10-year sentence for using her staff to help Joan win the court race and for forging documents to help her own case.

Brad Bumsted is the state Capitol reporter for Trib Total Media (717-787-1405 or bbumsted@tribweb.com).

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