Reporting Harold Hayes
PITTSBURGH (KDKA/AP) – The jury has found suspended state Supreme Court Justice Joan Orie Melvin and her sister, Janine Orie, guilty on all but one count in a campaign corruption trial.
Both were found guilty on all counts except official oppression. On that charge, the jury was hung.
The jury foreman explained how they reached their decision during four days of deliberation.
“There was a lot more evidence, a lot more emails of Janine Orie directing people what to do,” said jury foreman Matt Mabon, 911 center employee from Whitehall. “That’s why Janine was the quicker of the two, and we went back to the justice and started over on the justice to see what she had against her.”
The guilty verdicts include theft of services and criminal conspiracy.
“This wasn’t feelings. The evidence was there to follow,” Mabon added. “We followed the evidence to the point.”
Orie Melvin and her sister were escorted out of the courthouse by sheriff’s deputies out of camera view.
“As a first time juror, it was hard. It’s stressful. It’s tiring. I’m beat down. I can’t wait to take a nap, believe me,” Mabon said. “The first person we finished was Janine, and that was yesterday. We finished all six counts of Janine. Today was when we pretty much only had two left on the judge – the justice. And today was when we pounded them out and said ‘we can do this.’”
Following the verdict, Allegheny County District Attorney Stephen Zappala released a statement.
It reads: “I would first like to thank the members of the jury for their hard work and diligence. This jury, having sat in a court of law, heard the truth about the defendant’s conduct and has made it absolutely clear that no one is above the law irrespective of title or status.”
KDKA Radio’s Bill Rehkopf’s interview with Matt Mabon, the jury foreman:
Earlier in the day, the jury sent the judge a note which read in part, “For as close as we are, could we hear the definition of accomplice” with regard to defendant Janine Orie.
The judge read the definition and the jury resumed deliberations.
KDKA Radio’s Robert Mangino’s interview with Matt Mabon:
The sisters are charged with misusing Melvin’s former Superior Court staff to help her campaign for the state’s highest court in 2003 and 2009.
Janine Orie was an aide to the judge then and Allegheny County prosecutors say she helped organize that illegal campaign work — as well as other allegedly illegal work done by the state-funded staff of a third sister, then-state Sen. Jane Orie.
The prosecution depicted Janine Orie as the political brains of the family. The defense called her a patsy.
“She’s had this hanging over her for three years,” said James DePasquale, Janine Orie’s attorny. “She’s devastated; as anyone would be with half a brain in their head. It’s not an easy thing.”
The sisters have denied any wrongdoing. They remain free on bond until sentencing.
The Pennsylvania Bar Association has also released a statement on the verdict. PBA President Thomas G. Wilkinson said:
“The Justice Orie Melvin verdict represents a sad chapter in the history of Pennsylvania’s justice system.”
“As lawyers, we have a responsibility to do all we possibly can to help preserve the integrity of the justice system and restore public confidence in our judiciary. The many distinguished and honorable judges in Pennsylvania deserve nothing less. An independent and impartial judiciary is a cornerstone of our system of justice, and public confidence in the judiciary is undermined when judges engage in high profile misconduct, such as by directing their law clerks and staff to perform political campaign work when they should be doing the important business of the court.
“For more than 65 years, the PBA has been on record in favor of an appointive system for state appellate court judges. The selection and appointment of judges should be based on experience and performance and not on ballot position, political party or effectiveness in campaign fundraising. A merit-based, appointive system of selecting appellate judges would help to get judicial candidates out of the business of campaign fundraising and politicking.
“We are hopeful that the Supreme Court of Pennsylvania will soon return to its full complement of seven justices.”
KDKA Radio’s Mike Pintek spoke with University of Pittsburgh law professor and legal analyst, John Burkoff, on where the Senate goes from here: