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Prosecutors say Joan Orie Melvin’s job as judge does not bar her prosecution

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State Supreme Court Justice Joan Orie Melvin makes her way through the hallways of the Pittsburgh Municipal Courts, Downtown, with her daughter Casey during a recess on day two of her preliminary hearing, Tuesday July 31, 2012. James Knox | Pittsburgh Tribune-Review

Suspended state Supreme Court Justice Joan Orie Melvin’s profession does not make her immune to criminal prosecution, the Allegheny County District Attorney’s Office argues.

“No jurist can insulate herself from criminal liability by claiming that alleged criminal activity was an extension of politics and conducted within the physical space given to her by the court,” Assistant District Attorney Lawrence Claus wrote in a court filing.

“The fact that those resources were also utilized for doing the business of the commonwealth and the court does not create license to utilize state resources for private gain.”

The filing responded to a motion that Melvin’s defense attorneys filed on Dec. 7, which argued that her prosecution was “unprecedented and constitutionally flawed” because of the separation of powers of the executive and judicial branches of government.

Melvin, 56, of Marshall is accused of using her Superior Court office to run for a seat on the Supreme Court in 2003 and 2009. She is charged with seven criminal counts, including theft of services, conspiracy, solicitation to tamper or fabricate evidence and official oppression.

Melvin and her sister and former judicial staffer Janine Orie, 58, of McCandless are scheduled to stand trial before Common Pleas Judge Lester G. Nauhaus on Jan. 23.

An Allegheny County jury in March convicted a third sister, former state Sen. Jane Orie, of similar charges. She’s serving 2 12 to 10 years in prison.

Melvin’s attorneys said that if the charges against her proceed, “the independence of the judiciary will erode and yield to the executive’s self-declared authority to police and prosecute the manner and means by which judges direct their staff and exercise their judicial authority.”

Claus disagreed, saying the prosecution of a judge “is expected to proceed pursuant to the same principles as prosecution of any ordinary citizen.”

“Clearly the court has restricted political activity by court personnel, thus indicating that it is an activity to be avoided,” he said. “By restricting such activity, it did not make itself the only deliberative body to review conduct which offends the policy, nor did it give judges a pass to insulate themselves from prosecution when their political activity crosses the line into criminal conduct.”

Nauhaus has not scheduled a hearing on the matter.

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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