Attorneys for suspended Pennsylvania Supreme Court Justice Joan Orie Melvin and her sister, Janine Orie made their opening arguments to a jury of 9 women and 3 men Friday morning in the Allegheny County Court of Common Pleas downtown. The two co-defendants are accused of misusing government resources and staffers for Melvin’s state Supreme Court campaigns in 2003 and 2009. There are also counts of conspiracy, tampering with evidence and official oppression.
Melvin’s attorney, Daniel Brier of the Scranton law firm, Myers, Brier & Kelly, made an emotional appeal and asked the jury to look for the “North Star” with a compass that's pointer gravitates toward “hard work” and passion for the law.
“Joan Orie Melvin is innocent,” Brier said. “Today the silence ends and the truth begins.”
Brier also told the jury that Melvin’s Pennsylvania Superior Court office was just as productive or more productive during the election years 2003 and 2009 compared to other years. The prosecution contends Orie Melvin used office staff to campaign for the justice and her sister Jane Orie. Brier cites Melvin’s number of decisions and opinions those years as evidence for her hard work.
“It’s simple math,” Brier said, after he explained Orie Melvin submitted 235 decisions in 2003 and 259 decisions in 2009. Between 2001-2009, Brier said Melvin submitted an average of 237 decisions a year. “The work got done,” he said.
James DePasquale, defense attorney for Janine Orie, said his client was included in the list of people who got their government work done. DePasquale asked the jury to look for inconsistencies in witness testimony.
The prosecution, represented by Assistant District Attorney Lawrence Claus, pointed to what he believes to be the evidence, and named multiple witnesses willing to say, under oath, that Joan Orie Melvin or Janine Orie requested campaign work be done on government time.
His opening statement to the jury was less expressive. He drily explained to the jury what each woman is accused of and why and then gave details about the evidence and witnesses he would present that he feels will paint the picture that the two are guilty.
Judge Lester G. Nauhuas is presiding over the trial, and said it should take no longer than four weeks.