Ex-justice seeks to stop hearing
November 13, 2013 10:29 AM

PITTSBURGH (AP) — Former state Supreme Court Justice Joan Orie Melvin has filed an emergency request, asking a lower appeals court to stop her trial judge from holding a hearing Thursday on “adjustments” to her sentence while she appeals her conviction.

Allegheny County Judge Lester Nauhaus scheduled the hearing after the appeals court last week temporarily blocked his requirement that Melvin send autographed apologies written on a picture of herself in handcuffs to every other judge in the state as part of her house-arrest sentence for political corruption earlier this year.

Nauhaus has said the photographic shaming was necessary to address Melvin’s “stunning arrogance” in using her former state Superior Court staff to run her campaigns for the state’s highest court in 2003, when she lost, and 2009, when she won a seat. At a hearing last month, Nauhaus angrily chastised Melvin and her attorneys for challenging only that part of the sentence.

Nauhaus also fined Melvin $55,000, and ordered her to volunteer at a soup kitchen but otherwise spend three years’ on house arrest — a much less severe sentence than the 2ᄑ- to 10-year prison term her sister, former state Sen. Jane Orie, is serving for a similar campaign corruption conviction before a different county judge last year.

The Allegheny County district attorney’s office has argued in court filings that Nauhaus should consider imprisoning Melvin, since the Superior Court’s stay of the photographic shaming has taken some of the sting out of Melvin’s sentence.

DA’s spokesman Mike Manko said Tuesday that the office is not taking a position on whether the Superior Court should prevent Nauhaus from making adjustments to Melvin’s sentence on Thursday.

Melvin’s attorneys want the Superior Court to issue an additional emergency order preventing Nauhaus from changing any part of Melvin’s sentence until her appeals of her conviction are exhausted.

Melvin’s attorneys have argued the apology portion of her sentence violates her right not to incriminate herself while her appeals play out.

The appeals court rejected the prosecutors’ argument that Melvin had already apologized before her sentencing, so mailing more apologies shouldn’t violate her rights. The court also rejected prosecutors’ arguments that Nauhaus specified at sentencing that the court-ordered apologies could not later be used to incriminate Melvin.

Melvin, 57, was sentenced in May after being convicted along with another sister and former aide, Janine Orie, 59, of directing Melvin’s state-paid Superior Court staff to campaign for her.

Former Sen. Orie, a third sister, was convicted and sentenced by a different judge for using her own state-paid staff on her own campaigns. But Jane Orie was acquitted of charges that she ordered her staff to work on Melvin’s campaigns, too, although Melvin and Janine Orie were convicted of misusing then-Sen. Orie’s staffers on Melvin’s campaigns.

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