PITTSBURGH – A former state Senate staffer testified Wednesday that she did campaign work for state Supreme Court Justice Joan Orie Melvin because her boss – the justice’s jailed ex-lawmaker sister – wanted it done.
Barbara Brown, one of former Sen. Jane Orie’s Harrisburg staffers, testified that she sometimes worked entire days on Melvin’s 2003 run for a seat on the state’s highest court, even though she was on the Senate payroll.
Brown said she was particularly worried after attending one campaign event with Melvin at the Harrisburg Hilton in 2003 when she ran into Melvin’s opponent, Max Baer.
“I was concerned. The rules were you do not do political work on state time, but the boss wanted it done,” Brown said, referring to then-Sen. Orie.
Melvin, 56, and her sister and aide, Janine, 58, of Pittsburgh’s North Hills suburbs, are on trial in Allegheny County charged with misusing Melvin’s former Superior Court staff and that of former Sen. Orie to do campaign work on state-paid time, in their state-funded and equipped offices.
The former senator is serving 2½ to 10 years in prison and resigned from office after being convicted last year of illegally using her own state-funded staff and office for campaign purposes. She was acquitted, however, of charges that she ordered her staff to do work on Melvin’s campaigns, too.
Jane Orie’s former chief of staff, Jamie Pavlot, wrapped up her scene-setting testimony about how Melvin and Janine Orie regularly used the senator’s staff to do campaign work when Melvin, then a Superior Court judge, lost a 2003 run for the Supreme Court and won in 2009 when she ran again.
Other former Senate staffers began testifying Wednesday about tasks they did for Melvin. Once they finish – likely by Friday or Monday – Melvin’s former Superior Court workers are expected to begin testifying about work they did at the behest of the justice and Janine Orie.
Pavlot’s combative cross-examination Wednesday at the hands of Daniel Brier, one of Melvin’s attorneys, brought a rebuke from Allegheny County Judge Lester Nauhaus.
“Mr. Brier, let’s be a little professional in here, all right?” Nauhaus said after a prosecutor objected to a barbed question he posed to Pavlot.
With the jury out of the room, Nauhaus chided Brier that he wasn’t in a “blood sport” arena like Philadelphia, where his office frequently represents clients.