Constitutional Law

State supreme court justice and sister are convicted in Pa. political corruption case

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In a verdict that is likely to strip a suspended Pennsylvania Supreme Court judge of her seat on the state’s top court and her pension, a Pittsburgh jury on Thursday found Justice Joan Orie Melvin, 56, guilty on six of the seven counts she faced in a political corruption case.

Melvin’s sister, former staffer and co-defendant, Janine Orie, 58, was convicted of six counts in the theft of services and criminal conspiracy case, according to the Associated Press, the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette and the Tribune-Review. Another sister, former state senator Jane Orie, was previously convicted in a similar case.

The three sisters were accused of using state resources, including the staff of both then-state superior court judge Joan Orie Melvin and then-senator Jane Orie, for the political campaigns of Joan Orie Melvin and Jane Orie. The former senator was acquitted of charges that she used her state resources to campaign for her sister’s seat on the top state-court bench, but is serving time after being convicted of using staffers on her own campaigning, the AP article notes.

The sisters, who are Republicans, have contended they were prosecuted by Allegheny County District Attorney Stephen Zappala Jr., a Democrat, for political reasons. He has denied this, and said his office began a probe after an intern for the senator complained about being required to work on Melvin’s campaign.

Melvin’s lawyers left the court without comment, the Tribune-Review reports. However, attorney James DePasquale, who represents Janine Orie, said she was “devastated” by the verdict and may appeal on double-jeopardy grounds, as well as because the judge gave the jury instructions that weren’t sought by the prosecution.

She and Joan Orie Melvin will be sentenced at a later date.

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