Former PA Supreme Court Justice Convicted, Disbarred, Ordered to Write Apology
by Joe Watson
The Pennsylvania Supreme Court has accepted the voluntary disbarment of one of the high court’s former jurists who was convicted in 2013 on corruption charges. Former Justice Joan Orie Melvin, 58, was also ordered to come up with new wording for an apology she was required to write to judges across the state.
The Supreme Court accepted Melvin’s surrender of her law license on January 15, 2015 and announced that action a day later. Melvin had agreed in December 2014 to give up her license following her conviction for using state employees on state time to work on her 2003 and 2009 Supreme Court election campaigns.
At a November 4, 2014 hearing, Allegheny County Judge Lester Nauhaus ordered Melvin to rewrite an apology he had previously ordered her to send to members of the state’s judiciary. The hearing was the result of a complaint lodged by the Allegheny County District Attorney’s office.
“This isn’t an apology,” Nauhaus told Melvin’s attorney, Patrick Casey, in response to letters mailed by Melvin in October 2014. “I want this thing to come to an end. I don’t know why you sent these out, Mr. Casey, but these are unsatisfactory.”
Following her conviction for theft of services, conspiracy and misappropriations, Nauhaus had sentenced Melvin to pose for a photograph in handcuffs and to sign apologies on hundreds of copies of the photo to be sent to every judge in the state. The requirement to pose in cuffs was later removed by a Superior Court. [See: PLN, Feb. 2015, p.38; Sept. 2014, p.56].
“You brought shame to the judiciary,” Nauhaus had told Melvin when announcing the sentence. “There are 500 members of the judiciary who have been tarnished by your behavior.”
During the November 2014 hearing, Nauhaus also reinstated Melvin’s house arrest and requested that she wear a monitoring bracelet. He rescinded part of the previous sentencing order that required her to complete community service at a Pittsburgh soup kitchen. Under the new conditions, Melvin will only be allowed out of her house for church and Catholic holy days.
Nauhaus ordered the apology reworded after chastising the former justice for failing to learn her lesson. “The attempt to have the defendant have any kind of humility has failed,” he said.
Nauhaus complained that the apology letters, which listed the name of Casey’s law firm, Myers Brier & Kelly LLP, had the appearance of being mass produced on a copier and all carried the same salutation: to “members of the Pennsylvania Judiciary.”
In the letter, Melvin complained of being humiliated and distressed by Nauhaus’ order to write the apologies. She also said she wished that she had been more “diligent” in keeping an eye on her staff members and making sure they were more aware that they weren’t allowed to engage in political activity while on the state’s time clock.
Nauhaus ordered Melvin to personalize the letters and submit them for his approval prior to re-mailing them. He decided not to require Melvin to handwrite the apologies.
Melvin – whose sister, Jane Orie, a former Pennsylvania state senator, was sentenced to 2½ to 10 years in prison on similar charges – originally had been sentenced on May 7, 2013 to three years’ house arrest, two years on probation and community service. Nauhaus had also sentenced Melvin’s other sister, Janine Orie, an office secretary whom prosecutors reportedly said was the “linchpin” of the conspiracy, to one year of house arrest. She was also ordered to write letters of apology.
Nauhaus did not sentence Melvin to serve time. “I have always believed prison is for dangerous people,” he told her. “I also believe putting you in prison is going to cost taxpayers a fortune.” In finding a prison term to be inappropriate, Nauhaus rejected a request by Assistant District Attorney Lawrence Claus that Melvin be jailed.
Nauhaus further told Melvin that, in spite of the state’s rhetoric regarding her misuse of public employees to assist in her election campaigns for Pennsylvania’s high court, he did not believe her to be “an evil person” – though he did accuse her of being arrogant and said “in your heart of hearts, you don’t believe you did anything wrong.”
In speaking on the record at her sentencing hearing, Melvin made no references to the state or taxpayers and instead directed her comments to her six children who were seated in the courtroom gallery.
“I have always prided myself on being a role model to my children,” she said. “I’m sorry for the loss, pain and suffering you have endured for the last five years.”
After the sentencing, Melvin’s husband, an executive vice president and chief investment officer with the firm C.S. McKee Investment Managers, blasted Nauhaus, calling him – ironically – one of “the most corrupt judges in Allegheny County.”
Melvin was paid $195,309 annually until the state Court of Judicial Discipline halted her salary in August 2012. She continued to receive healthcare benefits, however, until she resigned from the court on May 1, 2013. Nauhaus also called for Melvin’s pension fund to be depleted and ordered her to pay $55,000 in fines and court costs.
Sources: Pittsburgh Post-Gazette, www.triblive.com, Associated Press
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