Melvin owes $128,000 in fines
PITTSBURGH — Former Pennsylvania Supreme Court Justice Joan Orie Melvin’s campaign corruption conviction will cost her not only three years on house arrest but also nearly $128,000 in fines, restitution and court costs.
As part of the penalties imposed at her resentencing Tuesday before Allegheny County Judge Lester Nauhaus, Melvin agreed to pay nearly $6,600 in restitution owed by her sister and former aide, Janine Orie.
The sisters were convicted in February of conspiring to use Melvin’s former Superior Court staff and the state-paid staff of a third sister, former state Sen. Jane Orie, to work on Melvin’s 2003 and 2009 Supreme Court campaigns.
Melvin and her attorney declined to comment, but Janine Orie’s attorney, James DePasquale, said Melvin assumed her debt because she’s broke.
“She lives with her father; she no longer has a job,” DePasquale said. “She has nothing.”
Melvin and her 58-year-old sister were originally sentenced last week but were brought back primarily so the judge could ensure that Melvin’s house arrest was served as part of the county’s intermediate punishment program, under which she’ll be confined to her home with an electronic ankle bracelet.
Nauhaus originally sentenced Melvin to three concurrent three-year terms of house arrest but reconsidered because, under Pennsylvania law, any sentence for a single crime that carries more than two years’ confinement is considered to be a sentence overseen by the state. Nauhaus adjusted Melvin’s sentence so she’s now serving three consecutive one-year terms, which means she’ll still spend three years confined to her home under county supervision.
Neither prosecutors nor defense attorneys asked for the change, but Nauhaus insisted on it to avoid having the issue raised on appeal.
“This is more a matter of form over substance than anything else,” Nauhaus said Tuesday.
The restitution issue, however, was unresolved last week, so Nauhaus addressed it, too.
Nauhaus’ order requires Melvin’s financial penalties to be paid from pension contributions being held by the State Employees’ Retirement System.
Melvin will likely lose her pension because of her conviction but under the law is entitled to have her SERS payroll contributions refunded.
Before Melvin gets any of that money back, the SERS funds must be used to pay her $55,000 fine; roughly $34,000 in restitution to reimburse the state for the campaign work illegally done by state employees; nearly $5,000 in court costs; more than $27,000 for her ankle bracelet monitor; and her sister’s debt.
Melvin’s attorney, Patrick Casey, wouldn’t say how much she stands to recover from SERS, but DePasquale estimated that it was more than $240,000.
Nauhaus has been praised and criticized by legal observers for also ordering Melvin to send an apology to hundreds of other judges using a picture of her in handcuffs.
Casey objected and asked the judge to delay enforcing that portion of the sentence, saying it violates Melvin’s Fifth Amendment right not to incriminate herself, which remains intact until her appeals are exhausted.
Nauhaus agreed to take that under advisement.
Nauhaus ordered the apology because he felt Melvin’s behavior “tainted” the judiciary. At her original sentencing, he ordered her into a side room to have her picture taken by a county employee but only later did media outlets learn that Melvin was made to pose in handcuffs.
On Tuesday, Nauhaus clarified that Melvin is to write the apologies on front of the pictures, meaning she’ll essentially be mailing autographed photo apologies to state judges.
Melvin, 56, of Pittsburgh’s North Hills suburbs, will also spend two years on probation after her house arrest and must volunteer three days a week at a soup kitchen.
Jane Orie, 51, is serving 2 1/2 to 10 years in prison for illegally using her own staff on her own campaigns, but she was acquitted last year of making those workers campaign for Melvin. Orie’s term also includes time for forging documents she presented in her own defense at trial.