Tuesday, July 31, 2012

Orie Melvin headed to trial on seven of nine charges - Pittsburgh Tribune-Review

State Supreme Court Justice Joan Orie Melvin makes her way into Pittsburgh Municipal Court, Downtown, for day two of her preliminary hearing Tuesday July 31, 2012. James Knox | Pittsburgh Tribune-Review

By Adam Brandolph

Published: Tuesday, July 31, 2012, 11:10 a.m.
Updated less than a minute ago

Suspended State Supreme Court Justice Joan Orie Melvin will stand trial on charges she illegally used her taxpayer-funded staff when she was still a Superior Court Judge to campaign for a seat on the high court in 2003 and again in 2009, a judge ruled Tuesday.

District Judge James J. Hanley Jr. said Melvin, 56, of Marshall, will be tried on seven of nine counts, including theft of services, conspiracy, solicitation to tamper or fabricate evidence and official oppression after hearing two days of testimony in Melvin’s preliminary hearing in Pittsburgh Municipal Court. Melvin, a Republican, has pleaded not guilty to all charges. One count of official oppression and one count of criminal solicitation were dropped.

Melvin’s attorney, Daniel Brier, said the hearing was the defense’s first opportunity to put the charges up to judicial scrutiny.

â€Å"We will have additional opportunities to challenge (the other) counts, which we believe will withstand strict application to the facts,” Brier said after the hearing ended.

No trial date has been set.

Two private consultants testified at Tuesday’s hearing about the work they performed during Melvin’s 2009 campaign for a seat on the high court.

Tracy Kolich Hall, executive director of the Senate Republican Campaign Committee, said she was in daily contact via email and later by phone with Janine Orie, Melvin’s sister and office manager, during the workday, but much of the campaign work was performed by a private consultant.

Melvin, a Republican, is charged with illegally using her taxpayer-funded staff to campaign for a seat on the high court in 2003 and 2009. She was suspended from the Supreme Court in May after an Allegheny County grand jury recommended charging her with theft of services, conspiracy, solicitation to tamper with or fabricate evidence, official oppression and misapplication of entrusted property. Melvin has pleaded not guilty to all charges.

District Judge James Hanley is presiding over the hearing. He is expected to rule today whether Melvin will go to trial.

Orie’s defense team has repeatedly questioned witnesses over Melvin’s separation of schedulers for her judicial and political obligations and has stressed Melvin and Janine Orie’s use of personal email accounts when discussing campaign issues.

â€Å"You couldn’t schedule something for the judge politically until you were sure you weren’t conflicting with the judicial calendar, right?” said Dan Brier, one of Melvin’s attorneys.

â€Å"Yes,” Hall said.

On Monday, three former staffers testified that they were expected to perform campaign work when Melvin was still a Superior Court judge during her failed 2003 campaign.

Janine Orie will go to trial in August on charges of theft of services, tampering with evidence, criminal solicitation and conspiracy based on allegations that she used judicial staffers and Jane Orie’s legislative staffers to campaign for Melvin.

An Allegheny County jury convicted Jane Orie of McCandless in March of using public employees for political activity. Manning sentenced her to 2 1⁄2 to 10 years in prison in June.

Melvin, wearing a pink jacket with black accents, a black skirt and a black blouse, for the second day sat away from the desk behind her attorneys with her daughter, Casey, 24.

The last sitting state Supreme Court justice to be found guilty of criminal charges was Rolf Larsen in 1994. The state House removed him from office later that year.

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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