Pavlot’s testimony addresses heart of case against Melvin
The chief of staff to former state Sen. Jane Orie told an Allegheny County jury on Monday that Orie's sister, suspended Supreme Court Justice Joan Orie Melvin, ordered her to remove political materials from boxes she took from the senator's North Hills office.
“Jane said, ‘Anything that's political of mine, pull out.' Joan said, ‘Anything that's political of mine, pull out,' ” said Jamie Pavlot, who was granted immunity from prosecution in exchange for her testimony against the sisters. “They both spoke the words to me. … I said OK, but I didn't do it.”
The three-way phone call on Nov. 1, 2009, occurred hours after Pavlot removed the boxes of expense reports, political literature and contribution lists from Orie's McKnight Road office because legislative intern Jennifer Knapp Rioja said she was going to report to authorities that staffers were doing political work there.
Pavlot's five hours of testimony addressed the heart of the p rosecution's public corruption charges against Melvin, 56, of Marshall and a third sister, former court staffer Janine Orie, 58, of McCandless. Prosecutors say Melvin and Janine Orie used Jane Orie's legislative office and Melvin's then-Superior Court office to campaign for a seat on the Supreme Court in 2003 and 2009.
Both pleaded not guilty. The trial before Common Pleas Judge Lester G. Nauhaus began on Friday.
Janine Orie initially went to trial in a joint case with Jane Orie, but the case ended in a mistrial when prosecutors accused Jane Orie of submitting falsified documents to the court. Allegheny County District Attorney Stephen A. Zappala Jr. retri ed Jane Orie separately, and a jury convicted her in March on 14 counts. She is serving 2 ½ to 10 years in the state prison in Cambridge Springs.
Melvin, who won election to the high court in 2009, sat stoically for most of the day. Occasionally she scribbled something on a piece of paper next to her attorney, Daniel T. Brier. Her husband, Greg Melvin, sat in the first row about 10 feet behind his wife and more than once shook his head during Pavlot's testimony.
Pavlot, 58, the star witness in Jane Orie's trials, spent most of her time on the stand testifying to the authenticity of emails connecting Melvin and Janine Orie to Jane Orie's legislative staff. Pavlot testified that the senator's staff regularly helped with Melvin's fundraising efforts, including checking a post office box where fundraiser checks were mailed.
“From the beginning (state Sen. Jane Orie) said, ‘Look, if either one of my sisters, Janine or Joan, give you a directive, you need to follow that as though I were telling you to do that, ' ” she said.
In one email exchange, Pavlot described how during a workday she helped set up a political commercial for Melvin that included Shaler police, the Sisters of Divine Providence in the North Hills and residents of the St. Barnabas Health System. Assistant District Attorney Lawrence Claus asked Pavlot why she would accept such tasks as an employee of the senator.
“Well, it came from the judge, and I was told to do whatever I needed to do,” Pavlot said.
“So you on occasion spoke to Joan Orie Melvin herself about politically related things?” Claus asked.
“Yes,” Pavlot said.
Pavlot is scheduled to resume her testimony Tuesday.