PITTSBURGH – State Supreme Court Justice Joan Orie Melvin’s lawyer tried to cast doubt Tuesday on the authenticity of documents prosecutors contend tie the suspended judge to illegal campaigning in the office of her jailed sister, former state Sen. Jane Orie.
Defense attorney Dan Brier asked the senator’s former chief of staff Jamie Pavlot how documents dated 2010 got into the files of political-related material that Pavlot testified she took home from Orie’s office in November 2009 and turned over to prosecutors later that month. Pavlot repeatedly denied she put the documents into the files after the fact.
Melvin, 56, and a third sister, Janine Orie, 58, of Pittsburgh’s North Hills suburbs, are on trial on theft of services, conspiracy and other charges for allegedly misusing Melvin’s former Superior Court staff and Sen. Orie’s former staff – both of which were taxpayer-funded – to campaign for Melvin. Allegheny County Deputy District Attorney Lawrence Claus contends that happened in 2003, when Melvin lost the election, and again in 2009 when she was elected just days after the investigation into the allegedly illegal campaigning began.
Jane Orie, the former senator, is serving 2½ to 10 years in prison and resigned from office after she was convicted last year of using her state-paid staff to work on her own campaigns. She was acquitted of charges she used her staff to help Melvin – despite testimony from Pavlot, who is the most important witness to testify against Melvin so far.
During a recess, Claus explained the jurors last year apparently mixed some newer documents into those evidence files while examining them during deliberations at Sen. Orie’s trial last year. It wasn’t immediately clear how Claus planned to explain that to the jury since a pretrial ruling by Common Pleas Judge Lester Nauhaus forbids either attorney from specifically mentioning Orie’s previous trials, so as not to prejudice the defendants.
Pavlot also was cross-examined by Janine Orie’s attorney, James DePasquale, who tried to minimize his client’s involvement in whatever campaigning was allegedly done by Sen. Orie’s staff.
To that end, DePasquale got Pavlot to acknowledge that dozens of Melvin-related campaign emails either took so little of Pavlot’s time to be insignificant or were directly from Melvin to Pavlot – which helped Janine Orie’s case, but not the justice’s.
As to the more central issue of the campaign-related documents, Pavlot testified Monday she took two boxes of files containing political materials home with her Sunday, Nov. 1, 2009, two days after an intern went to the DA’s office to blow the whistle on illegal campaigning.
Orie sent a letter to the intern’s professors and the chancellor at the University of Pittsburgh, denying any political work was ever done in her office. On Monday, Pavlot testified she took the political files home because she was “worried” they could be used to prove the senator’s letter was a lie.
But under questioning from Brier Tuesday, Pavlot acknowledged she had previously testified she also took the files because she hoped to work on them at home, not just because they might implicate the senator or Melvin in illegal campaigning.
Brier attempted to challenge Pavlot about a three-way phone call she had with the senator and Melvin who, Pavlot testified Monday, both told her to remove political materials from the files she took home.
In an attempt to discredit Pavlot, Brier asked about an unrelated federal lawsuit she filed in which she claimed to be under “severe emotional distress” during the time when the call allegedly occurred. But the judge cut short those questions as irrelevant when Claus objected.