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Jury considers fate of suspended high court judge

February 15, 2013 News Extra

PITTSBURGH — The campaign corruption case against suspended state Supreme Court Justice Joan Orie Melvin and her sister and a suspended aide is one of family ties becoming “criminal ties,” a prosecutor said Friday in closing arguments.

Allegheny County Deputy District Attorney Lawrence Claus said it was understandable that aide Janine Orie and a third sister, then-state GOP Sen. Jane Orie, would support Melvin’s Supreme Court campaigns in 2003 and 2009, when she was still a Superior Court judge.

But the sisters crossed the line by conspiring to misuse Melvin’s state-paid court staffers and Jane Orie’s Senate staff for political work, Claus said.

“That’s taking family ties too far,” Claus said. “That’s not what the law allows.”

Attorneys for Melvin and Janine Orie say prosecutors haven’t proved the illegal campaign work, largely because all the witnesses agreed that Melvin’s staff did their judicial work and did it well.

“If all this is true, and they were unanimous in saying that, how could there have been this campaign work to the degree they say it was going on?” argued James DePasquale, Janine Orie’s attorney.

Melvin’s attorney, Patrick Casey, agreed: “Joan Orie Melvin got the work done, she served her job, she ran her campaign with political professionals, and she paid for it with private funds.”

Casey also argued that two key prosecution witnesses “lied” when they testified about key documents, though Claus claimed the witnesses “misspoke.”

The jury began deliberating Friday.