Judge suspends Melvin's sentence until higher court rules on her appeal
An Allegheny County judge on Friday suspended former state Supreme Court Justice Joan Orie Melvin's sentence on her corruption conviction despite pleas from her attorney to let her continue serving a three-year term on house arrest, a tactic one legal expert said could save her from a worse fate.
Common Pleas Judge Lester G. Nauhaus released Melvin, 57, of Marshall pending the outcome of a Superior Court appeal that seeks to block Nauhaus from altering her sentence. The state court ruled this month that Melvin does not have to comply with part of the judge's sentence that requires her to write letters of apology to every judge in Pennsylvania on black-and-white photos of herself posing in handcuffs.
Nauhaus ordered Melvin's tracking bracelet to be removed after a hearing Downtown. He said she does not have to volunteer at a soup kitchen three days a week, either, another part of his sentence.
“She can enjoy the holidays,” Nauhaus told Melvin's attorney, Patrick Casey.
Casey argued that Nauhaus lacked the authority to change her sentence because of the unresolved appeal.
“To change that is unconstitutional,” Casey said during a heated exchange with the judge, who ordered Casey several times to “sit down” and to be quiet. “The court does not have the authority to modify the sentence,” Casey said.
Nauhaus said he is unhappy that Melvin is complying with only part of his sentence.
“She's not serving my sentence. That's the problem,” Nauhaus said. “She's getting credit for time served. It's not right, and I'm not going to allow it.”
Duquesne University law professor Bruce Ledewitz said Casey is trying to avoid exposing Melvin to a new sentence that could be more severe. “They want to make sure that the judge cannot alter the sentence in any substantial way because they're afraid the judge might sentence her to jail,” he said.
Melvin was convicted on charges of public corruption for using her judicial staff and resources to run her political campaigns in 2003 and 2009 for the Superior and Supreme courts.
Nauhaus said Melvin would receive credit for the roughly four months she has spent on house arrest.
The judge in May sentenced her to serve three years of house arrest and two years of probation, pay $55,000 in fines and write the letters of apology. Melvin appealed her being required to write the letters, arguing it violates her Fifth Amendment right against self-incrimination.
A jury in March 2012 convicted Melvin's sister, former state Sen. Jane Orie, 52, R-McCandless, who is serving 2 1⁄2 to 10 years in prison, on charges of forgery, conflict of interest and theft of services in a similar corruption case.
Melvin attended the hearing with a third sister, Janine Orie, 59, of McCandless, who is serving one year of house arrest for her role in her sisters' campaign schemes.
Jeremy Boren is staff writer for Trib Total Media. He can be reached at 412-320-7935 or firstname.lastname@example.org.