PITTSBURGH (KDKA) — Suspended State Supreme Court Justice Joan Orie Melvin will stand trial for using her tax-paid staff to campaign for her seat on the court.
District Judge James Hanley made that decision late Tuesday after hearing more testimony from witnesses.
Orie Melvin returned to City Court as the District Attorney sought to establish a prima facie case that Orie Melvin violated the law and should be held for trial for using state-paid staff for campaign work when she ran for the high court in 2003 and 2009.
On Monday, Orie Melvin’s law clerks said the judge and her sister, Janine, asked them to do political work in and out of the judge’s office.
Chief clerk Lisa Sasinoski called Janine, who was on the judicial payroll, the campaign manager.
On Tuesday, defense attorneys got witnesses to dispute that claim.
Campaign strategist Noel Nyquist testified that she didn’t think Orie Melvin had a campaign manager, saying she and Tracey Kolich Hall — director of the Senate Republican Campaign Committee — often spoke directly to Orie Melvin but never in her judicial office, or on her office phone, or through office email.
But Barbara Brown, who worked in Harrisburg for Sen. Jane Orie, testified she spent 40 percent of her legislative time doing political work for Orie Melvin, adding, “Senator Orie told me that anything for Joan was a priority.”
Brown said the politics didn’t end when Orie Melvin lost to Judge Max Baer.
Brown recalled an email after the election from Orie Melvin asking her to research Judge Baer’s campaign finance reports.
Sen. Orie’s legislative aide, Jason Davideck, said he spent about 30 percent of his time in 2003 driving Judge Orie Melvin around the state campaigning.
The senator’s chief aide, Jamie Pavlot, also testified that Orie’s office supplies were used in the campaign.
“We used computers, we used phones, we used copiers for both Orie Melvin campaigns” in 2003 and 2009, Pavlot said.
Pavlot said the political instructions came from the senator, from sister Janine who was on the judge’s payroll and from the judge herself.
“The dynamics of this family is that working for one is working for all three and you took direction from all,” Pavlot testified.
Pavlot said shortly before the ’03 election, an intern quit who said she was reporting to the attorney general the political activities in the senate office for Orie Melvin.
Pavlot testified that she removed campaign material from the senate office and stored them in boxes in her garage.
That’s when she got a call she saw as part of a cover-up.
“Both Senator Orie and Judge Orie Melvin were on the phone together with me. They asked me to remove anything politically-related out of the boxes.”
Pavlot testified she answered, okay, when the judge and senator asked her to remove the political material from the office boxes.
But Pavlot said she never did that and the boxes were turned over to the district attorney.
With the preliminary hearing over, the case now goes to trial.
No trial date has been set.
But in August, Orie Melvin faces a hearing before the Court of Judicial Discipline. Now on leave with pay, at $189,000 a year, that court could suspend her without pay.