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Orie Melvin’s punishment in corruption case attacked from both sides

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Allegheny County Deputy District Attorney Michael Streily stands outside the Lawrence County Government Center in New Castle on Tuesday, May 20, 2014.
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James Knox | Pittsburgh Tribune-Review
Convicted state Supreme Court justice Joan Orie Melvin

An animated prosecutor on Tuesday called former Supreme Court Justice Joan Orie Melvin’s sentence the “most bizarre thing” he has encountered in 29 years of practicing law, telling a panel of three Pennsylvania Superior Court judges that she should be resentenced to jail.

“I’m offended by the fact that it ever happened,” Allegheny County Deputy District Attorney Michael W. Streily told the judges during hourlong arguments in the Lawrence County Government Center in New Castle. “I’m here to tell you, Joan Orie Melvin ought to go to jail.”

Melvin, 58, of Marshall is appealing her conviction for using her Superior Court office to run her campaign for state Supreme Court in 2003 and 2009. She did not appear at the hearing. Her daughter Casey Melvin and husband, Greg Melvin, attended.

Common Pleas Judge Lester G. Nauhaus sentenced Melvin to three years of house arrest and community service in a soup kitchen. He fined her $55,000 and ordered her to write letters of apology on a photo of herself wearing handcuffs to send to every judge in the state.

Melvin’s lawyer, Patrick Casey, planned to argue five points, including that the charges brought against his client constituted a violation of the separation of the powers of government; that a search warrant investigators obtained was illegal; that prosecutors engaged in misconduct; and that Nauhaus gave the jury bad instructions.

But the lawyers had 25 minutes to make their case, and the judges seemed most interested in discussing Nauhaus’ sentence.

Superior Court stayed the letter-writing part of the sentence in November; Nauhaus stayed the remainder a week later so that Melvin wouldn’t receive credit for time served.

Casey said the letter-writing portion of the sentence was illegal, in part because Nauhaus did not put it in writing.

“So what is your remedy?” asked Judge Christine L. Donohue, who was joined by Judges Paula Ott and John L. Musmanno.

“We lift the stay and that’s it,” Casey said.

Melvin would receive credit for five months of house arrest and complete the remainder when the court rules.

Streily said the letter-writing portion was the “foundation” of Nauhaus’ sentence, intended to shame the former jurist. If that’s ignored, he argued, Melvin should be resentenced to jail.

If the stay is lifted and the apologies remain, he said, “The commonwealth will not appeal.”

In a separate argument, James DePasquale argued that his client, Janine Orie, 60, of McCandless, Melvin’s sister and former aide, should not have been tried twice because of the double-jeopardy rule. Her first trial in 2011 ended in a mistrial when a third sister, former state Sen. Jane Orie, 52, of McCandless submitted forged documents.

Janine Orie was tried a second time, convicted and sentenced to one year of house arrest for helping her sisters steal public services. Her sentence has been stayed.

Jane Orie was released from prison in February after serving the minimum of her 2½- to 10-year prison. She is appealing her conviction in an effort to clear her name.

Adam Brandolph is a Trib Total Media staff writer. Reach him at 412-391-0927 or [email protected].

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