Trial of Justice Joan Orie Melvin

Convicted Former Justice Joan Orie Melvin files a Statement of Appeal, has law license suspended




Supreme Court Justice Joan Orie Melvin has resigned from the bench following her criminal conviction stemming from her use of state resources to further her judicial campaign. Her trial began January 23, 2013, in the Allegheny Court of Common Pleas before Judge Lester G. Nauhaus.

On February 21, 2013, after four days of deliberation, the jury found Justice Orie Melvin guilty of six of the seven counts brought against her.

On March 25, 2013, Justice Orie Melvin announced that she will resign from the Supreme Court, with an effective date of May 1, 2013.

On May 7, 2013, Judge Neuhaus sentenced Orie Melvin to three years house arrest followed by two years of probation. She will also be required to send a handwritten apology to every judge in the state.

PMC post-conviction Press Release: Conviction of Justice Orie Melvin Highlights Need for Merit Selection

Background

In April of 2010, two of Justice Orie Melvin's sisters, state senator Jane Orie and Janine Orie, were arrested and charged with theft of services and criminal conspiracy for the use of Sen. Orie's offices and legislative staff for political work related to the Senator's political campaigns as well as the judicial campaigns of Justice Orie Melvin. In July 2010, the Court of Common Pleas ordered Senator Orie and Janine Orie to stand trial.

The court set a trial date of February 7, 2011. Before trial began, presiding Judge Jeffrey Manning declared a mistrial based on evidence that the defense doctored relevant documents. A new trial date was set for April 11, 2011. Senator Orie was tried alone, and found guilty of 14 counts of forgery, conflict of interest, and theft of services. She is presently serving two and a half to ten years in prison.

Investigation and Suspension

Justice Orie Melvin received formal notice in January of 2012 that she was the target of a grand jury investigation for the improper use of judicial and legislative staff for her campaigns. PMC called for the Justice to temporarily step down or face suspension by the Supreme Court.  PMC Executive Director Lynn A. Marks explained, “All citizens, including judges are presumed innocent until proven guilty, but judges and especially Supreme Court justices should not be permitted to judge others while under the cloud of such a serious investigation.”

On May 18, 2012, the Pennsylvania Supreme Court issued an order suspending Justice Orie Melvin, stating that "in view of the compelling and immediate need to protect and preserve the integrity of the Unified Judicial System and the administration of justice of the citizens of this Commonwealth, Madame Justice Orie Melvin is hereby relieved of any and all judicial and administrative responsibilities as a justice and is not to take any further administrative or judicial action whatsoever in any case." Justice Orie Melvin's offices were secured and vacated, and her employees were furloughed.

 

 

Charges and Trial

Justice Orie Melvin stands trial in Allegheny County on seven counts. She was originally indicted on nine charges, including: three counts of theft of services, two counts of conspiracy, one count of solicitation to tamper with or fabricate evidence, two counts of official oppression and one count of misapplication of entrusted property. At her preliminary hearing, one count of official oppression and the count of solicitation were dismissed.

Explanation of Charges

  • Theft of services (18 Pa.C.S.A. § 3926(b)): Theft of services is the intentional taking of services known to be available only for compensation, usually by deceit, trick, or some other artifice. Justice Orie Melvin is accused of:
    • Guilty: Using a member of her judicial staff (her sister, Janine Orie) to facilitate and promote then-Judge Orie Melvin's Supreme Court campaigns in 2003 and 2009;
    • Guilty: Using other members of her judicial staff to benefit and facilitate her judicial campaigns;
    • Guilty: Using Senator Orie's staff to facilitate and promote her judicial campaigns.
  • Criminal Conspiracy: (18 Pa.C.S.A. § 903 and ): Criminal conspiracy is an agreement between two or more people to commit a crime or to assist in the commission of a crime. Justice Orie Melvin is accused of:
    • Guilty: Conspiring with Janine Orie and Senator Orie to commit Theft of Services (18 Pa.C.S.A. §3926(b) to direct members of their judicial and senatorial staff to promote and facilite her Supreme Court election campaigns;
    • Guilty: Conspiring with Senator Jane Orie to commit Tampering with Physical Evidence (18 Pa.C.S.A. §4910(1)) when she encouraged or requested that Senator Orie's chief of staff, Jamie Pavlot, remove political documents from boxes of materials removed from Senator Orie's offices.
  • Criminal Solicitation: (18 Pa.C.S.A. 902): Criminal solicitation is the intentional promotion or facilitation of a crime by commanding, encouraging, or requesting that another engage in conduct that would constitute such a crime. Justice Orie Melvin is accused of:
    • Dropped: Soliciting the crime of Tampering with Physical Evidence (18 Pa.C.S.A. §4910(1)) when she instructed Senator Orie's chief of staff, Jamie Pavlot, to remove documents from boxes of materials removed from Senator Orie's offices.
  • Official Oppression (18 Pa.C.S.A. § 5301): Official Oppression is the knowing use of official capacity to conduct illegal infringement of personal or property rights, or denies another the free exercise of their rights. Justice Orie Melvin is accused of:
    • Not Guilty: Committing Official Oppression against a member of Justice Orie Melvin's staff, Lisa Sasinoski, by requiring her to perform prohibited political and campaign related acts, requiring her to perform those acts during office hours when use of state employees in that manner violated PA law, and terminating her employment with the Court after she expressed concerns about such work.
    • Dropped: Committing Official Oppression against a member of Justice Orie Melvin's staff, Molly Creenan, by requiring her to perform prohibited political and campaign related acts, requiring her to perform those acts during office hours when use of state employees in that manner violated PA law, and continuing to pressure Creenan to perform such work despite her expressed opposition.
  • Misapplication of Entrusted Property (18 Pa.C.S.A. § 4113(a)): Misapplication of Entrusted Property is the unlawful application or disposal of property that had been entrusted to a fiduciary or that belongs to a government or financial institution in a manner known to carry a great risk of loss to the actual owner or intended beneficiary. Justice Orie Melvin is accused of:
    • Guilty: Using her Superior Court facilities and office equipment to facilitate and promote her campaigns for Supreme Court Justice in 2003 and 2009.

Justice Orie Melvin's trial began on January 23, 2012 before Judge Lester G. Nauhaus of the Allegheny Court of Common Pleas. On February 21, after four days of deliberation, the jury found Justice Orie Melvin guilty of six of the seven counts brought against her. She was acquitted of the count of Official Oppression.

 

 

Hearings

Preliminary hearing

Orie Melvin's preliminary hearing was held on July 30 and 31, 2012. She requested the recusal of the entire Allegheny County bench, arguing that a key witness in the case, Lisa Sasinoski, is the wife of one of the Allegheny County judges, Kevin G. Sasinoski, who could also be called to testify. The Supreme Court denied this request. The Allegheny Court of Common Pleas subsequently ruled that Judge Sasinoski would not have to testify at Orie Melvin's preliminary hearing. At the hearing, ten witnesses testified over the two days. Magisterial District Judge James J. Hanley Jr. determined that a prima facie case had been established for seven of the nine charges and that Orie Melvin should go to trial. The court dismissed one count of official oppression and the count of criminal solicitation.

Court of Judicial Discipline: Hearing on whether to suspend pay

On August 31, 2012, the Court of Judicial Discipline suspended Orie Melvin's pay. Suspending pay of an accused judicial officer is unusual, but the court determined that the charges against Orie Melvin were “strong – and that they describe conduct so egregious as to require Respondent’s suspension without pay.”

Motion to Dismiss

In December 2012, Orie Melvin filed a memorandum stating that she should not be facing criminal charges, arguing that activity by court employees should only properly be regulated by the judiciary. The memorandum characterized the proceedings as "unprecedented and flawed," and that continuing with them would expose the judiciary to the "arbitrary police power of every prosecutor." Judge Lester G. Nauhaus rejected the argument.

Trial Aftermath

On March 25, 2013, Justice Joan Orie Melvin announced her resignation from the Supreme Court in a letter to Gov. Corbett, to take effect May 1, 2013. In the letter she expresses her intention to appeal her jury conviction, but that she believes the people of Pennsylvania "deserve a fully-staffed Supreme Court," necessitating that she step down.

PMC's statement may be read here.

State Reps. Glenn Grell (R-Hampden Township) and John Sabatina (D-Philadelphia) sponsored HR 159 which soughtto begin an investigation into the activities of Justice Orie Melvin to determine whether she should be impeached. Their co-sponsorship memo can be read here. In the wake of Justice Orie Melvin's resignation, Reps. Grell and Sabatina issued statements that they would not move forward with the impeachment process. See Rep. Grell's statement here.

State Rep. Brandon Neuman (D-Washington County) filed a separate co-sponsorship memo and seeks to begin the impeachment process immediately, arguing that there is no need for further investigation.

On May 7th, 2013, Judge Nauhaus sentenced Orie Melvin to three years of house arrest and two years of probation, and she will be required to send personal, handwritten apologies, penned on photos of herself, to every judge in the Commonwealth. She has also been fined $55,000, is prohibited from using the title "Justice," and must additionally write apologies to her former campaign staff and the campaign staff of her sister, former state Senator Jane Orie.

On June 5, Orie Melvin filed a Statement of Appeal with the Superior Court outlining twenty potential issues to be raised on appeal. A hearing on the appeal has been scheduled for July 19. Click here for more information.

On June 12, the Pennsylvania Supreme Court suspended Orie Melvin's license to practice law. The suspension is temporary and Orie Melvin has ten days to petition the court for a hearing.

On May 2, the Pennsylvania Superior Court granted Orie Melvin's motion to consolidate the pending appeals of her criminal conviction and stay of sentence. Click here for more information.

 



Former Justice Orie Melvin earned a B.A. in Economics in 1978 from the University of Notre Dame in Indiana, and earned her J.D. in 1981 from Duquesne University School of Law in Pittsburgh. She went into private practice from 1981 to 1985, at which time she was appointed to the Pittsburgh Municipal Court as Magistrate Judge, becoming Chief Magistrate Judge in 1987. In 1990 Orie Melvin was appointed to fill a vacancy in the Court of Common Pleas of Allegheny County, and was elected to a full term in 1991, serving in the court's civil, criminal, and family divisions. In 1997, she was elected to the Superior Court of Pennsylvania, and was retained in 2007. She ran for justice of the Supreme Court of Pennsylvania in 2003 but was defeated by Max Baer, and then ran successfully in 2009, winning a 10-year term.