HARRISBURG — A Superior Court panel Wednesday blocked a trial judge’s requirement that a former Pennsylvania Supreme Court justice convicted of corruption write letters of apology to other judges in the state as part of her sentence.
The three-judge panel granted former Justice Joan Orie Melvin a stay on grounds that the apology letters could be used as evidence against Melvin if her pending appeal results in a new trial, Superior Court Judge Christine Donohue wrote in an 18-page opinion.
The stay “does not disrupt the trial court’s sentencing scheme,” Donohue said. “Instead, it only stays a portion of the sentencing order pending resolution by this court of constitutional and statutory arguments regarding its legality.”
Melvin and her sister, Janine Orie, were convicted in February on charges that they used Melvin’s state-paid staff to do work for her Supreme Court campaigns in 2003 and 2009. Melvin was elected to the state’s highest court in the second campaign. Allegheny County Judge Lester Nauhaus sentenced Melvin to three years’ house arrest with electronic monitoring, two years’ probation and a requirement that Melvin mail every judge and justice in the state a signed apology written on a photograph of her in handcuffs. In seeking a stay, Melvin said the apology requirement violated her constitutional protections against self-incrimination. Prosecutors countered that, since she had already apologized in court, Melvin had waived those protections.
But the Superior Court panel said the statement she made prior to sentencing was not an admission of guilt, but rather an apology to her six children for the “loss, suffering and pain” that they had endured during her legal ordeal.
“Importantly, Orie Melvin did not admit her guilt for any of the crimes with which she was charged and convicted,” the panel said.
Janine Orie, Melvin’s sister and aide, was convicted at the same trial. She was sentenced to one year of house arrest and required to write apologies to co-workers she ordered to do political work.
A third sister, former state Sen. Jane Orie, was previously convicted of using her Senate staff for political purposes and is serving a 2ﾽ- to 10-year prison term.
Melvin’s attorney, Patrick Casey, did not return telephone calls seeking comment on the panel’s ruling.