PITTSBURGH — The sister of Pennsylvania Supreme Court Justice Joan Orie Melvin surrendered Friday on charges that she directed illegal campaign work be done by Melvin's staff on the lower state appellate court where she was judge in 2003 and 2009.
The charges against Janine Orie, 57, are based on 29 pages of grand jury findings that strongly suggest Melvin knew about and ordered the illegal work by Superior Court staffers — though she has not been charged criminally — and that a third sister, Pittsburgh-area state Sen. Jane Orie also pressured Melvin's staff to do the work.
Lisa Sasinsoski, a Superior Court law clerk who was fired by Melvin after an unsuccessful 2003 Supreme Court campaign, told the grand jury that she and at least four other staffers did campaign work including writing speeches, attending political events, filling out endorsement questionnaires from political action committees, and even tracked and deposited campaign checks for Melvin.
Sasinoski, now a clerk for another justice on the state's highest court, told the grand jury that work was sometimes directed by Melvin, though usually by Janine Orie, who left notes instructing the staff what to do, though "the notes were sometimes were signed by Janine as 'Judge' or 'Joan.'"
The latest charges were filed by Allegheny County prosecutors, who are scheduled to retry Janine Orie and the senator starting Feb. 13 on charges they misused the senator's paid staff for campaigning that benefited the senator and Melvin over the past decade.
The new charges against Janine Orie, who lives in the Pittsburgh suburb of Allison Park with the senator, are theft of services, misapplication of entrusted property, tampering with evidence, and soliciting someone to tamper with evidence. She has been suspended with pay from her $67,000-a-year job as Melvin's aide since she was charged last year with allegedly helping the senator direct her paid staff to do campaign work on state time to benefit the senator and Melvin.
But the new charges suggest Janine Orie took an even more active role in directing Melvin's staff to do political work, too, such that Sasinoski "characterized Janine Orie's office role in 2003 as Orie Melvin's 'campaign manager.'"
The document contend Sasinoski, three other law clerks, and a secretary believed Melvin was well aware of Janine's efforts on her behalf, and that the sister directed the campaign work at Melvin's behest.
Among other things, the grand jury found Melvin wrote the comment "Are you above this" on some campaign-related documents a staffer refused to complete in 2009.
Sasinoski told the grand jury that Janine Orie blamed high telephone bills on law clerks during the 2003 campaign, prompting the staff to get details of bills that showed most of the extra calls were from Melvin's office phone and another installed by the court at the justice's home. Sasinoski contends Melvin personally called at least 280 state Republican committee people seeking support during the timeframe covered by those phone bills. Melvin lost that year, but was elected to the high court in 2009.
A spokesman for the prosecutor's office declined to comment when asked whether Melvin could be charged, given the grand jury's findings.
Melvin did not immediately return a call for comment to her Pittsburgh chambers Friday, nor did her attorney. The senator's attorney also did not return requests for comment.
Although the senator faces no new charges, she's alleged to have directed some of the political work done for Melvin.
That happened shortly before the 2003 election when the senator left a phone message telling Sasinoski "she had 'better work the polls on Tuesday and get your clerks in line, and if not, tell them they needed to be in the office on Tuesday and find two people to replace them at the polls.'"
Sasinoski said the message was "very loud, forceful and laced with profanities."
Janine Orie was allowed to surrender to a Pittsburgh magistrate rather than be arrested, and was awaiting arraignment Friday evening. That process was delayed because the theft of services charge — which contends she misused the state-funded services of Melvin's Superior Court staff from 2003 through 2009 — is a felony which first required her to be fingerprinted and processed by sheriff's deputies.
Here defense attorney, James DePasquale, said he didn't expect to comment after the arraignment.
"What's there to say?" DePasquale said. "Let's set the bond and get out of here."
Sen. Orie, a 49-year-old Republican, remains charged with evidence tampering that led to a mistrial on the original campaign corruption charges in March. The corruption retrial next February will include evidence for 16 charges against the senator that grew out of the mistrial.
The new charges against Janine Orie also allege a cover-up, and accuse her of ordering another Melvin law clerk, "to transfer to disk and then delete all original campaign and/or political computer files" on Melvin's office computers because of the investigation.
It was not immediately clear if the new charges against Janine Orie will further delay the retrial.
Allegheny County Judge Jeffrey Manning declared the mistrial during jury deliberations in March because he believed the defense used a forged document to discredit a key witness against Jane and Janine Orie.
County prosecutors and detectives have since investigated other defense documents and Orie's testimony about them at the original trial and filed new counts — including forgery, perjury, evidence tampering, and obstruction of justice — after claiming they uncovered evidence that Orie had fabricated or forged some documents, and lied when she testified about them at the first trial.