Melvin’s bench peer not required to testify |

Melvin’s bench peer not required to testify

State Supreme Court Justice Max Baer won’t have to testify during the preliminary hearing for fellow Justice Joan Orie Melvin, an Allegheny County judge ruled on Wednesday.

Melvin’s attorney, Patrick Casey, subpoenaed Baer, Common Pleas Judge Kevin G. Sasinoski and four administrators to testify and produce documents at her July 30 hearing in Pittsburgh on nine charges that she used her judicial staff to do campaign work.

District Attorney Stephen A. Zappala Jr. and lawyers for the judges and administrators fought the subpoenas, arguing that they were outside the scope of such a hearing, in which prosecutors show whether they have enough evidence to go to trial.

Common Pleas Judge Jeffrey A. Manning tossed out the subpoenas, writing they constituted a “fishing expedition.”

Casey did not return a call for comment, and Zappala’s office declined comment.

University of Pittsburgh law professor John Burkoff said Melvin likely was trying to impeach the credibility of witnesses against her.

“It seems that some of what she’s looking for might be appropriate once the case is bound over for trial. It makes sense that the judge would say it’s premature and overbroad,” Burkoff said.

Zappala’s office accuses Melvin, 56, a Republican from Marshall of illegally using her taxpayer-paid Superior Court staff to work on her 2003 and 2009 campaigns for Supreme Court. Charges against her include theft of services, conspiracy and official oppression.

The documents Melvin requested from court administrators include those involving seven people, among them her sister Janine Orie and Melvin’s former law clerk Lisa Sasinoski, the wife of Kevin Sasinoski. The records include personnel files and employment records for 25 years.

Lisa Sasinoski works for Baer, 64, a Mt. Lebanon Democrat who defeated Melvin in 2003 for a Supreme Court seat.

Manning ruled that Lisa Sasinoski must appear for the hearing. She testified during Janine Orie’s preliminary hearing on related charges.

Manning declined to recuse himself from ruling on the case. Melvin and Manning served together on the county bench from 1990-97.

Manning presided over the trial of another Melvin sister, former state Sen. Jane Orie of McCandless, whom a jury convicted of using public employees for political activity. He sentenced Jane Orie to 2 12 to 10 years in prison.

The Supreme Court suspended Melvin with pay on May 18. She is scheduled to appear Aug. 14 in Harrisburg before the state Court of Judicial Discipline, which will determine whether she will continue to receive her $195,309 salary while fighting the charges.

Bobby Kerlik is a staff writer for Trib Total Media. He can be reached at 412-320-7886 or [email protected].

TribLIVE commenting policy

You are solely responsible for your comments and by using you agree to our Terms of Service.

We moderate comments. Our goal is to provide substantive commentary for a general readership. By screening submissions, we provide a space where readers can share intelligent and informed commentary that enhances the quality of our news and information.

While most comments will be posted if they are on-topic and not abusive, moderating decisions are subjective. We will make them as carefully and consistently as we can. Because of the volume of reader comments, we cannot review individual moderation decisions with readers.

We value thoughtful comments representing a range of views that make their point quickly and politely. We make an effort to protect discussions from repeated comments either by the same reader or different readers

We follow the same standards for taste as the daily newspaper. A few things we won't tolerate: personal attacks, obscenity, vulgarity, profanity (including expletives and letters followed by dashes), commercial promotion, impersonations, incoherence, proselytizing and SHOUTING. Don't include URLs to Web sites.

We do not edit comments. They are either approved or deleted. We reserve the right to edit a comment that is quoted or excerpted in an article. In this case, we may fix spelling and punctuation.

We welcome strong opinions and criticism of our work, but we don't want comments to become bogged down with discussions of our policies and we will moderate accordingly.

We appreciate it when readers and people quoted in articles or blog posts point out errors of fact or emphasis and will investigate all assertions. But these suggestions should be sent via e-mail. To avoid distracting other readers, we won't publish comments that suggest a correction. Instead, corrections will be made in a blog post or in an article.