DA witness counts cost of Melvin political work
February 7, 2013

PITTSBURGH — Prosecutors on Thursday called an accountant to help them estimate how much illegal campaign work was allegedly done for suspended state Supreme Court Justice Joan Orie Melvin by her state-paid employees and those who worked for her sister, an ex-senator.

The combined value of work done by four Senate employees and two court workers was more than $33,000 when Melvin, then a Superior Court judge, ran for the Supreme Court in 2003 and 2009, said Jackelyn Weibel, a staff accountant and certified fraud examiner for the Allegheny County district attorney’s office. It was not immediately clear if Weibel, whose testimony was to continue after the lunch recess, would be testifying about the alleged value of work done by other employees on either staff, several more of whom have testified since the trial began 10 days ago.

Weibel will be the last witness before prosecutors rest their case against Melvin, 56, and her suspended aide and sister, Janine Orie. The sisters from Pittsburgh’s North Hills suburbs are charged with conspiring with a third sister, former state Sen. Jane Orie, to illegally use Melvin’s and Sen. Orie’s government-paid staff and equipment to help run Melvin’s unsuccessful 2003 campaign and her 2009 race, when she was elected to a seat on the state’s highest court.

To set the stage for Weibel’s testimony, Deputy District Attorney Lawrence Claus called W. Russell Faber, the chief clerk of the Pennsylvania Senate, to testify that Senate staffers were not allowed to do campaign work on state time. He also said Sen. Orie wasn’t permitted to use her office and its equipment, including fax machine, copier, and computers, to campaign for herself or for anyone else.

Jane Orie, 51, resigned her Senate seat in May and is now serving 2 to 10 years in prison for illegally using her state-paid staff, offices and equipment on her own political campaigns from 2001 to 2009.

Orie, however, was acquitted of all charges that she used her staff to campaign for Melvin.

Weibel testified that her financial estimates are “as conservative as possible.” For example, if an employee testified spending 20 percent to 40 percent of the work day on Melvin’s campaigns, Weibel’s dollar estimate would be based on the 20 percent figure.

Jamie Pavlot, Sen. Orie’s former chief of staff and a key witness in the case, testified that she regularly worked 10-hour days for the Republican senator. Because she was only required to work 7.5 hours — or 37.5 hours per week — Weibel calculated that Pavlot was owed 2.5 hours per day in compensatory time, which she was free to use as she wished. As a result, Weibel determined that although Pavlot worked on Melvin’s campaigns, there was “zero loss” to the state because Pavlot’s comp time would have covered any political work she did.

It was not immediately clear when the defense would begin calling witnesses or whether Melvin or Janine Orie will testify.