Former state Supreme Court Justice Joan Orie Melvin, right, and sister Janine Orie, left, arrive for court with a family member on May 7, for sentencing for their February convictions on corruption in Orie Melvin’s election campaign. The sisters avoided prison time for their corruption convictions but were sentenced Tuesday to house arrest for what a judge called crimes of “arrogance.” (AP Photo/Keith Srakocic)
Following the May 7 sentencing of former state Supreme Court Justice Joan Orie Melvin and her sister on public corruption charges, NAACP Pittsburgh Unit President Connie Parker said she received several calls complaining that they should have gone to jail.
Parker disagrees. While it’s certainly valid to argue that Blacks are disproportionally jailed in Pennsylvania compared to Whites, she said the crimes of Melvin, and sister Janine Orie were campaign law violations—using political staff for campaigning.
Allegheny County Common Pleas Judge Lester Nauhaus sentenced Melvin to three years of house arrest and two-years of probation, ordered her to pay $55,000 in fines, to volunteer at a soup kitchen, and to send a photo of herself in handcuffs to roughly 500 members of the state judiciary.
Yes, Parker said, it is a felony—technically theft of public services—but not burglary, or aggravated assault.
“I think it’s good that it’s generating discussion about criminal sentencing, but this was a white-collar, political crime,” she said. “I think the judge was on the mark. They have been shamed and destroyed enough. These are professional educated women. That’s all they had and it’s been taken away. Why waste more state resources paying to keep them in jail.”
Parker said the Orie sisters’ crimes were miles away from a case like the teens who shot a young woman in the face and stole her jitney money and car last month.
“If you want an example of disparity, let’s argue about that CAPA teacher and her former student committing robberies,” said Parker. “She’s a young attractive White girl–she got house arrest and probation and drug rehab. Her boyfriend, who is Black, stayed in jail.”*
I definitely think the justice system needs to be revamped. A lot of young Black men who committed non-violent crimes should be on house arrest with a chance to contribute back to society, not in prison costing us thousands per year.”
In a related development, Nauhaus has ordered former state Supreme Court Justice Joan Orie Melvin to appear before him next week to be resentenced.
The Pittsburgh Post-Gazette first reported the order setting the hearing for Tuesday.
Nauhaus could not immediately be reached for comment and his staff says the order doesn’t give a reason for the resentencing.
Melvin’s attorneys and the district attorney have declined comment.
*(Alvin Carter III, did not make bail immediately, but was released to a rehab. However, he then fled town before his sentencing and was arrested in Georgia.)
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The Associated Press contributed to this report.