Allegheny County DA questions content of Orie Melvin’s apology letters
Former Pennsylvania Supreme Court Justice Joan Orie Melvin has dropped the appeal of her sentence on public corruption charges but her legal troubles may not be over.
Melvin’s appeal centered on having to write letters of apology to her staff and every jurist in the state. Her notice to the Supreme Court dropping the appeal includes copies of the letters she’s prepared to send out, but District Attorney Stephen Zappala is challenging the content of those letters.
“We have concerns about the language of the proposed letters included as exhibits with the filing and have communicated those concerns to the trial judge,” Mike Manko, Zappala’s spokesman, said Tuesday. “While Ms. Orie Melvin contends in her filing that she wishes to resume her entire sentence including the issuance of letters of apology, attempting to deflect blame for her actions to members of her staff can hardly be considered an apology.”
Melvin’s attorney Patrick Casey declined comment. The Supreme Court closed the case Tuesday.
In her appeal, Melvin called the letter-writing an admission of guilt that violated her constitutional rights. The letters included with the motion say she pleaded not guilty to the charges but was convicted at trial.
“As a matter of law, I am guilty of these offenses,” Melvin says in the letters.
Being sentenced to write the letters has been a “humiliating experience” that has brought “unfathomable distress” to her family, the letters say.
“In reflection, I wish I had been more diligent in my supervision of my staff and that I had given them more careful instructions with respect to the prohibition on political activity set forth in the Supreme Court’s Order dated November 24, 1998,” Melvin says.
Common Pleas Judge Lester G. Nauhaus sentenced Melvin to three years of house arrest and two years of probation. He also ordered her to work at a soup kitchen three days a week and write the letters of apology on pictures of herself in handcuffs.
Nahaus couldn’t be reached for comment.
The Superior Court upheld the letter-writing but ruled the letters didn’t have to be on pictures of a handcuffed Melvin. Melvin appealed that decision to the Supreme Court but asked that she be allowed to serve the rest of her sentence while she pursued that challenge.
The high court Oct. 7 said she couldn’t pick and choose what parts of her sentence to start serving while she appeals the other parts, leaving her the choice of either putting off the entire sentence while she appeals or dropping the appeal.
“Upon further careful reflection and consideration of this matter, petitioner has decided not to seek allowance of appeal to the Pennsylvania Supreme Court of the Superior Court’s decision in the above-captioned matter,” Melvin said in her motion filed Monday.
The motion notes that Melvin has prepared the letters and is ready to deliver them.
Manko said that if the high court had overturned the sentence and sent the case back to Nauhaus, prosecutors would have again sought a prison sentence.
“Our office was prepared to argue for a period of incarceration of 2 ½ to 5 years,” he said.
An Allegheny County jury convicted Melvin, 58, of McCandless of using her Superior Court seat to campaign for the Supreme Court in 2003 and 2009.
She lost the 2003 election but won the 2009 election. She was charged with using her and her sister’s state-funded staffs to run her campaigns.
Former Republican Sen. Jane Orie, 53, of McCandless was released from prison in February after serving the minimum of her 2½- to 10-year sentence on charges of forgery, conflict of interest and theft of services.
A third sister and former Melvin staffer, Janine Orie, 60, of McCandless, was sentenced to a year of house arrest for her role in her sisters’ schemes.
Brian Bowling is a staff writer for Total Trib Media. Contact him at 412-325-4301 at [email protected].