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Wow, judge! Show mercy on Melvin

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Wednesday, May 8, 2013, 12:01 a.m.

Talk about cruel and unusual punishment.

Everyone expected Allegheny County Common Pleas Court Judge Lester Nauhaus to throw the book at former Pennsylvania State Supreme Court Justice Joan Orie Melvin on Tuesday. But few anticipated the tome would carry the weight of an unabridged, hardback edition of Webster's Dictionary, which Nauhaus obviously never used to look up the definition of “leniency.”

Nauhaus could have sentenced Melvin to 25 years in prison for crimes related to using state employees to work on her campaigns for the state's high court. He could have followed prosecutors' recommendations of as much as four years behind bars.

Instead, the hanging judge sentenced her to three years of hard time, then tacked on another two years of probation.

Nauhaus could have done Melvin a favor by sentencing her to the State Correctional Institution-Cambridge Springs in Crawford County. There, she would have learned the prison routine under the guidance of her sister, former state Sen. Jane Orie, whose career also was derailed by a pesky public corruption scandal.

But Nauhaus was determined to make an example of Melvin. He ordered her to serve her time at the State Correctional Institution-Joan Orie Melvin's House.

That's right. For the next three years, Melvin will have to call her home, home.

She will spend her days contemplating her crimes in the cramped confines of a $555,000, five-bedroom, four-and-a-half-bath colonial in Marshall. She will spend lonely evenings not having a clue what her family members might be up to, unless she happens to glance across the living room. Each night, she will yearn for the comfort of her own bed shortly before retiring to it.

Nauhaus sending Melvin to this veritable Alcatraz should have been penalty enough. But he tacked on a $55,000 fine and several other provisions to the sentence, including:

• Barring Melvin from using the title “justice.”

This excessive prohibition probably will force Melvin to shred her personal stationery and prompt the printing of new personal checks.

• Ordering Melvin to send a photo of herself and an apology to every member of the state judiciary, which includes 550 District Court judges, 450 Common Pleas Court judges, 19 Superior Court judges, 13 Commonwealth Court judges and seven Supreme Court justices (once the vacancy created by Melvin's resignation is filled). Even if she has a coupon, Melvin is about to drop a fortune at the Target photo department.

• Requiring Melvin to write handwritten apologies to the state workers she ordered to perform illegal work, subjecting her to a monotonous task that puts her at risk for both monumental boredom and wrist tendonitis.

Nauhaus certainly heaved that unabridged dictionary at Melvin. In refusing to cut her any breaks, he proved himself to be a merciless beast on the bench.

As for Melvin, spending the next three years wearing an ankle bracelet while padding around the house probably will leave her with a question impossible to rid from her mind.

What if the cable goes out?

Eric Heyl is a staff writer for Trib Total Media. He can be reached at 412-320-7857 or

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