White-Collar Crime

Defense begins for Pa. Supreme Court justice being tried in corruption case

Nearly two weeks into the trial of a suspended Pennsylvania Supreme Court justice and her sister, who are accusing of using state superior court resources in Joan Orie Melvin’s campaign for a seat on the state’s top bench, the defense is beginning to present its case.

Both Melvin, 56, and her sister, Janine Orie, 58, have pleaded not guilty in the Pittsburgh case. Testimony for the defense on Friday initially focused on trying to show that Melvin’s former chief law clerk, Lisa Sasinoski, who was a witness for the prosecution, lied when she told the jury that Melvin fired her in 2003 after she complained that the then-state court judge’s office was being used for politicking, reports the Tribune-Review.

Melvin’s attorneys say Sasinoski resigned and eventually began working for Justice Max Baer, a political rival of Melvin’s who also sits on the state supreme court.

Attorney Donna Walsh also said court records show that Melvin and her staff were at least as efficient at producing court work as other judicial offices in the superior court. “These records show they were consistently getting their work done,” said Walsh.

A third sister, Jane Orie, who is a former state senator, is serving a prison term after previously being convicted in a similar corruption case.

Melvin and Janine Orie are accused of cheating taxpayers out of over $33,000 by using staffers both from Melvin’s office and from Jane Orie’s office as a state senator to do political campaign work. A forensic accountant testifying for the prosecution provided details on Thursday, as the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette reported.

Related coverage:

ABAJournal.com: “Investigators Seize Pa. Lawmaker and Ex-Prosecutor’s Computers in Evidence-Tampering Probe”

ABAJournal.com: “Law License of Pa. State Senator Is Suspended Following Conviction in Political Corruption Case”

ABAJournal.com: “Pennsylvania Supreme Court Orders Ouster of Justice Melvin After Criminal Charges Are Filed”

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