ShareThis Page
News

Judge suspends Melvin's sentence until higher court rules on her appeal

| Friday, Nov. 15, 2013, 11:30 a.m.
Convicted state Supreme Court justice Joan Orie Melvin
James Knox | Pittsburgh Tribune-Review
Convicted state Supreme Court justice Joan Orie Melvin

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 12 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 jboren@tribweb.com.

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.

click me