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Convicted ex-judge seeks combined appeals argument

May 1, 2014
Associated Press

PITTSBURGH (AP) — Former state Supreme Court Justice Joan Orie Melvin wants the appeal of her campaign corruption conviction to be argued at the same time as her related appeal affecting when she is given credit for time served toward her sentence.

Melvin's attorneys are scheduled to argue the appeal of her conviction before a three-judge Superior Court panel in Lawrence County on May 20, and they also asked Wednesday to argue on that same day their appeal of the trial judge's stay of Melvin's sentence.

Melvin was convicted last year and sentenced to three years' probation, a $55,000 fine, and community service in a soup kitchen. But she was also ordered to send an apology to every judge in the state — written on copies of a picture Allegheny County Judge Lester Nauhaus ordered taken of Melvin in handcuffs minutes after he imposed the sentence.

Melvin's attorneys particularly object to the autographed apology pictures as part of the sentence and say that ordering Melvin to apologize while her overall case is on appeal violates her right against self-incrimination. But prosecutors say that argument is irrelevant because Melvin apologized for her conduct when she was sentenced.

Nauhaus stayed the sentence he designed to address her "stunning arrogance" because he felt she should serve all or none of the punishment pending her conviction appeal. But with the sentence stayed, Melvin isn't currently receiving credit for time served on probation.

"Consolidation will serve the interests of efficiency and economy since the appeals raise common questions of law and fact concerning the validity of the criminal sentence imposed on Orie Melvin," her attorneys wrote.

Melvin, 58, was a Superior Court judge when she twice ran for the state Supreme Court. She lost in 2003 then won a seat in 2009. Weeks afterward, Allegheny County prosecutors began an investigation that eventually led to charges that Melvin was illegally using her Superior Court staff to run her campaigns on state-paid time and was conspiring with her sister, former state Sen. Jane Orie, to have the senator's state-paid staffers also help Melvin's campaigns.

Besides her request to argue both appeals May 20, Melvin also wants one of the Superior Court judges scheduled to hear the arguments, Paula Francisco Ott, to recuse herself. Melvin's attorneys contend Ott should not participate in hearing the appeal because she also ran for statewide office in 2009 so her "impartiality might reasonably be questioned."

In a response Wednesday, the district attorney's office says Melvin waited too long to combine the appeals and calls the request for Ott to recuse "frivolous" because Ott is already required by law to step aside if she knew anything about Melvin's case before it was prosecuted.

Deputy District Attorney Michael Streily also noted that Ott wrote the Superior Court opinion rejecting Jane Orie's appeal of her earlier conviction.

In February, the 52-year-old former senator completed her prison sentence for campaign corruption. Orie was acquitted of conspiring to have her staff campaign for Melvin, but convicted of having them run her own campaigns and of introducing forged exhibits that prompted a mistrial before she was eventually convicted.

 
 

 

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