White-Collar Crime

No testimony from state supreme court justice in political corruption case against her

A defense lawyer for suspended Pennsylvania Supreme Court Justice Joan Orie Melvin got a rebuke from the judge overseeing her political corruption case this week over a comment made after an adverse evidentiary ruling.

Told that he could not present to the jury charts showing that the defendant, who was then a state superior court judge, was one of the more productive members of the bench, attorney Patrick Casey stated to Allegheny County Common Pleas Judge Lester G. Nauhaus on Tuesday afternoon that “the challenge is getting a fair trial in this case,” the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette reports.

Nauhaus took umbrage, saying that he had bent over backwards to give the justice a fair trial and was offended that Casey would suggest otherwise. Raising his voice further, he added: “Someone else may disagree with me, but right now, in this trial, I get to make that call, and I say it’s not relevant.”

The jury wasn’t present for the exchange. But it did hear testimony from an accountant allowed into evidence that Melvin’s annual superior court expenses, during her two campaigns for a supreme court seat, were less than average, as well as testimony that she had reimbursed the state for use of her cellphone not related to her job, another Post-Gazette article recounts.

Melvin and her co-defendant sister, Janine Orie, face charges of theft of services, misapplication of government funds and conspiracy. They are accused of using Melvin’s superior court staff, as well as the legislative staff of another sister, then-state Sen. Jane Orie, to help with Melvin’s supreme court campaigns in 2003 and 2009. Jane Orie was sentenced to prison after being convicted in a related case.

The defense has now rested its case without the justice taking the stand to testify, the newspaper notes. Closing arguments are expected Friday.

Additional coverage:

ABAJournal.com: “Defense begins for Pa. Supreme Court justice being tried in corruption case”

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