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Disciplinary court stops pay to Justice Joan Orie Melvin while she awaits trial

Suspended state Supreme Court Justice Joan Orie Melvin will stop receiving her $195,000 annual salary while she awaits trial on charges she used state employees to work on campaigns in 2003 and 2009, the state Court of Judicial Discipline ordered Thursday.

“In these circumstances, only an order of interim suspension which removes this respondent from the public payroll has any prospect of ameliorating the harm to the public’s confidence in the judicial system,” the court wrote in its 45-page decision.

President Judge Bernard L. McGinley dissented but did not issue an opinion. A footnote in the order said that if it were up to him, he would suspend Melvin with pay. Two judges recused themselves.

“The decision highlights the difficulty in making credibility decisions using a transcript rather than live witnesses,” said William “Skip” Arbuckle, Melvin’s attorney before the board. “That said, we respect the decision for what it is: an interim order and an interim order only.”

Dan Brier, one of Melvin’s criminal defense attorneys, said the charges “lack legal merit and are factually contrived.”

“Justice Orie Melvin has faith that the legal deficiencies and the factual contrivances will be exposed in court and result in her full acquittal and restoration to the important work that she was elected to do,” Brier said.

John Burkoff, a University of Pittsburgh law professor, said the order does not bode well for Melvin.

“What it indicates is their belief in not only the seriousness of these charges, but of the likelihood that she’ll be found guilty,” Burkoff said. “That may be wrong, but it’s not a good sign.” Melvin will continue to receive medical benefits.

In May, Melvin announced she was voluntarily recusing herself from any activity on the state Supreme Court, the same day fellow justices suspended her and ordered her office vacated and her files and equipment secured.

Melvin, 56, of Marshall faces seven charges, including four felonies, that she used her taxpayer-funded Superior Court staff illegally to campaign for a seat on the Supreme Court in 2003 and 2009. Melvin pleaded not guilty to all charges.

She will be tried with her sister and former staffer, Janine Orie, 58, of McCandless, who is charged with directing campaign work in Melvin’s judicial office and in the office of a third sister, former state Sen. Jane Orie. A pre-trial conference is scheduled for Sept. 14. A trial date has not been set.

The family of Republicans has called the prosecution of the Orie sisters politically motivated, a claim that District Attorney Stephen A. Zappala Jr., a Democrat, denies. Jane Orie is serving 2 12 to 10 years in prison for her conviction on similar charges.

Adam Brandolph is a staff writer for Trib Total Media. He can be reached at 412-391-0927 or [email protected].


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