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May 2, 2014

Hearing for ex-justice to be held in county

NEW CASTLE — A former Pennsylvania Supreme Court justice will have a hearing on her criminal conviction in Lawrence County later this month.

Joan Orie Melvin, who was convicted of campaign corruption last year and sentenced to three years probation, a $55,000 fine and community service, is appealing the case to Pennsylvania Superior Court. And the court has decided to hear that appeal during a special session at the Lawrence County courthouse May 20.

The court is scheduled to hear cases in the county on May 20 and 21.

Lawrence County Common Pleas Court President Judge Dominick Motto said that the Superior Court typically conducts its sessions in bigger cities, such as Pittsburgh and Philadelphia, but every so often it convenes at county courthouses.

Melvin’s attorneys are scheduled to argue the appeal of her conviction before a three-judge Superior Court panel. They also have asked to argue on that same day their appeal of the trial judge’s stay of Melvin’s sentence.

Along with her sentence, Melvin 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.

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