JOAN ORIE MELVIN (AP Photo/Keith Srakocic, File)
by Joe Mandak
PITTSBURGH (AP) — Former state Supreme Court Justice Joan Orie Melvin and her sister avoided prison time for their corruption convictions but were sentenced Tuesday to house arrest for what a judge called crimes of “arrogance.”
Although Allegheny County Judge Lester Nauhaus stopped short of incarcerating either woman, which is what prosecutors sought, he chided Melvin in particular for her conceit and her claims that she had always tried to be a role model for her children.
“What kind of role model are you? These are felonies, this isn’t a parking ticket, and your children’s mother is a convicted felon,” Nauhaus told Melvin, a married mother of six.
Melvin was convicted of using her former court staff — and that of her sister, former state senator Jane Orie — on her political campaigns. She was sentenced to three years of house arrest followed by two years of probation.
Melvin’s third sister, Janine Orie, 58, was sentenced to one year of house arrest and two years of probation for the illegal campaigning, which she helped coordinate.
Nauhaus also ordered Melvin to send a photo of herself with an apology to every judge in the state to make amends for the abuse of her office. He fined her $55,000 as well.
Deputy District Attorney Lawrence Claus had asked for a sentence similar to the 2 1/2- to 10-year sentence that Jane Orie is serving. The 51-year-old ex-lawmaker was convicted of misusing her state-funded Senate staff to work on her own campaigns.
Melvin’s attorney, Patrick Casey, had argued for probation by noting that the aggregate value of the illegal campaign work that the judge received was about $34,000.
Nauhaus said the cost of the illegal work was a pittance next to the roughly $1 million that Melvin reportedly spent on each of her Supreme Court campaigns — in 2003 when she lost and in 2009 when she won a seat on the state’s highest court.
The judge said Melvin, 57, probably could have won the election without the illegal campaign work and contended that she simply thought she was above the law.
“I don’t believe that Joan Melvin is an evil person, I’ve never believed that,” Nauhaus told the courtroom. “But I do believe that her arrogance is stunning.”
He continued, “I honestly believe in your heart of hearts you don’t believe you did anything wrong, which is more the pity.”
Melvin stepped down after her February conviction on theft of services and other charges; her resignation took effect May 1. She has already surrendered her law license and will likely lose her pension.