Defense is trying to give an alternate story and Judge appears to have slammed the door
Denied evidence exasperates Orie Melvin’s defense
By Paula Reed Ward / Pittsburgh Post-Gazette
After losing an argument over a key piece of evidence in the defense case, an attorney for suspended state Supreme Court Justice Joan Orie Melvin questioned the trial judge’s fairness.
Patrick Casey was attempting to gain permission to enter evidence into his case that shows then-Superior Court Judge Orie Melvin’s caseload and production in 2003 and 2009 when she ran for the state’s high court.
He told Allegheny County Common Pleas Judge Lester G. Nauhaus outside the presence of the jury Tuesday afternoon that the evidence was essential in the panel’s determination of whether his client improperly used state resources, as the prosecution alleges in multiple counts of theft of services.
Judge Nauhaus told Mr. Casey the productivity of Justice Orie Melvin’s chambers was not relevant to the criminal case.
“The central issue in the case is this: The statute says if you have control over the work of others, and you use the work of others to your own personal benefit, that is theft of services,” Judge Nauhaus said. “The fact that what was going on here was political is irrelevant.”
Mr. Casey tried to argue that the fact that her caseload remained high was evidence of Justice Orie Melvin’s innocence.
The judge disagreed and told the defense they could not present charts showing the woman’s caseload.
“The challenge is getting a fair trial in this case,” Mr. Casey said to the judge.
That comment prompted a strong reply from the bench.
“Mr. Casey, I have bent over backwards to give your client a fair trial,” Judge Nauhaus said. “To say I’m not giving your client a fair trial belies the facts, and I’m offended by it.”
Then, the judge’s voice growing still louder, he continued, “Someone else may disagree with me, but right now, in this trial, I get to make that call, and I say it’s not relevant.”
That exchange marked the end of the court day early Tuesday afternoon. The defense called six witnesses and said there are three more slated for today, the 14th day of trial.
Robert Woods, a law clerk for Justice Orie Melvin in 2009, said her staff worked hard to get its work done as evidenced by internal statistics kept by the Administrative Office of Pennsylvania Courts.
“We were at, or near, the top, and everyone prided themselves as being as diligent as possible,” he said.
Assistant District Attorney Lawrence Claus questioned Mr. Woods about the quality of work, including how lengthy the opinions were.
Mr. Woods also testified that he didn’t see campaign signs in chambers, but there were articles and faxes stacked up.
“Obviously, the judge was running a campaign,” he said. “We knew she was campaigning.”
Scott Migli, who works for a polling research firm, said he worked with Justice Orie Melvin from November 2008 until February 2009 as she sought the Republican Party endorsement.
He said he was responsible for the production of palm cards during that time and did not seek help from either the judge’s judicial staff or the legislative staff of her sister, former state Sen. Jane Orie.
The last witness called by the defense was the director of finance for the Administrative Office of Pennsylvania Courts who testified that Justice Orie Melvin never took a $600 per month car allowance available to Superior Court judges.