Joan Orie Melvin

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Joan Orie Melvin
Court Information:
Pennsylvania Supreme Court
Title:   Former justice
Active:   1997-2013
Past position:   Judge, Pennsylvania Superior Court
Past term:   1997-2009
Past position:   Judge
Past position 2:   Magistrate judge, Pittsburgh Municipal Court
Previous chief 2:   1988-1990
Past term 2:   1985-1990
Personal History
Party:   Republican
Undergraduate:   University of Notre Dame, 1978
Law School:   Duquesne University, School of Law, 1981

Joan Orie Melvin was a justice of the Pennsylvania Supreme Court. She was elected to the court on November 3, 2009 and took office on January 1, 2010. She was convicted of six counts of corruption on February 21, 2013, and resigned on May 1, 2013.[1][2]


Melvin earned her B.A. in economics from the University of Notre Dame in 1978, and her J.D. from Duquesne University, School of Law in 1981.[3]


Awards and associations


  • 2005: Women in Government Award, Pennsylvania Business & Professional Women
  • 2005: Liberty Bell Award, Berks County Bar Association
  • 2004: Anne B. Anstine Excellence in Public Service Award
  • A Tribute to Women Leadership Award in Government/Public & Civic Service, YMCA of Greater Pittsburgh
  • Woman of the Year, Women's Law Association, Duquesne University School of Law
  • Woman of Spirit Award, Carlow College[4]


  • Member, American Judicature Society
  • Member, Federal Circuit Bar Association
  • Past president, Allegheny County Prison Board
  • Member, Soldiers & Sailors Military Museum and Memorial Board
  • Member, UPMC Passavant Board
  • Member, Vincentian Home Board
  • Member, Allegheny County Mental Health/Mental Retardation Advisory Board
  • Member, Stop Violence Task Force, Troubled Youth Committee, United Way Community Problem Solving Board[4]

In the news

Orie Melvin indicted by grand jury (2012)

For the full story, see: Pennsylvania Supreme Court justice found guilty on six counts of corruption

On May 18, 2012, Justice Orie Melvin was indicted by a grand jury for utilizing her staff at the Superior Court during campaigns for the Supreme Court in 2003 and 2009. In addition, Orie Melvin was accused of being directly involved in using her sister, state Senator Jane Orie's campaign staff, to benefit of her own campaigns.[5] Orie Melvin was charged with nine criminal counts.[6] In late July 2012, Judge James J. Hanley, Jr. reduced the charges to seven.[7]

Orie Melvin insisted she was innocent and would not resign from the Supreme Court. She contended the charges against her were politically motivated.[8]

Supreme Court suspends judge

Following the indictment, Orie Melvin was suspended with pay from the Supreme Court. However, in August of 2012, the Court of Judicial Discipline ruled her suspension should be unpaid.[9] The court intended to "protect and preserve the integrity of the Unified Judicial System and the administration of justice of the citizens of this Commonwealth" with the suspension. Separately, Orie Melvin sent a letter to Chief Justice Ronald Castille, recusing herself from all judicial matters until the situation was resolved.[6]

Orie Melvin found guilty (2013)

On February 13, 2013, Orie Melvin stood before a jury and stated, "I have decided to not take the stand and testify on my behalf." Closing arguments were heard on February 15, 2013. Janine Orie, who worked as an administrative assistant for Orie Melvin, also did not testify.[10]

After four days of deliberations, on February 21, the jury reached a verdict. Orie Melvin was found guilty of the following charges:

  • Felony theft of services (three counts)
  • Conspiracy to commit theft of services
  • Misdemeanor misapplication of government property
  • Conspiracy to tamper with evidence[1]

The Associated Press reported this was only the second time in the history of the Pennsylvania Supreme Court that a sitting justice had faced criminal charges.[11]

Orie Melvin sentenced

On May 7, 2013, Judge Lester G. Nauhaus, of the Allegheny County Court of Common Pleas, sentenced Orie Melvin. She was ordered to be placed on house arrest for three years and then serve two years of probation. She was allowed to leave the house three days a week to serve at a soup kitchen and attend church. The judge also ordered her to send a note of apology, written on a photograph of herself in handcuffs, to every judge in the state (over 500). Apology letters to her staff and family members were also required. In addition, she was ordered to pay $55,000 in fines and court costs.[12][13]

Sentence suspended pending appeal

In October of 2013, Orie Melvin asked Judge Nauhaus to change her sentence. She claimed being forced to write letters of apology violated her right to avoid self-incrimination. In response, Nauhaus attempted to schedule a probation violation hearing, but was blocked from doing so after the Pennsylvania Superior Court instituted an emergency stay of the proceedings.[14]

On November 6, 2013, the Pennsylvania Superior Court stayed the portion of Orie Melvin's sentence which ordered the written apologies. The court agreed with the defense claim that requiring the apologies violated Orie Melvin's right to avoid self-incrimination. Since her conviction is on direct appeal, there is a chance there will be a retrial. "While the requirement that she write apology letters does not involve potentially incriminating testimony in a courtroom, it nevertheless creates evidence that could possibly be used against her in a later criminal proceeding," said Judge Christine Donohue.[15]

Soon after the apology portion of her sentence was stayed pending an appeal, Judge Lester G. Nauhaus ordered her entire sentence to be suspended. "She's not serving my sentence! And the problem I have with that is she's banking credit for time served and I will not allow it," said Nauhaus.[16]

Orie Melvin files appeal of public corruption conviction

Melvin is appealing her conviction in a brief filed on December 10, 2013. The appeal offers 15 arguments as to why Orie Melvin's conviction should be vacated. Her attorney's argue the judge presiding over her case, Allegheny County Judge Lester G. Nauhaus prevented her from getting a fair trial because of his bias against her, which he showed in the courtroom, throughout the trial.

As part of her sentence, Nauhaus ordered Melvin to pose for a photo, in which she was wearing handcuffs, following her sentencing hearing. She was required to send the photo, along with an apology to Pennsylvania's 500 judges. The appeal sets forth additional challenges to this portion of her sentence. Her attorneys claim the apology portion of her sentence was illegally imposed and requires her to unconstitutionally incriminate herself.[17]

Judicial philosophy

Melvin is a self-described strict constructionist. In an article before the 2009 election, she stated, "I believe in judicial restraint. The job of a judge is interpreting the law — not creating it. And never legislating from the bench. That’s why we have three separate, co-equal branches of government. Judges are not supposed to be legislators."[18]

2009 election

Melvin defeated opponent Jack Panella, winning 53.1% of the vote.[19]

Candidate IncumbentElection %
Joan Orie Melvin ApprovedA No53.1%
Jack Panella No46.8%

Campaign fund-raising

See full fundraising report here.

Allegations of misdeeds in campaign

March 2012

In March 2012, Orie Melvin's sister, Pennsylvania State Senator Jane Orie was convicted of 14 counts of theft of services, conflict of interest and forgery for forcing state employees to perform campaign work for herself and Orie Melvin.[20][21]

While Senator Orie awaited sentencing, the prosecution was reconsidering how to pursue their case against Janine Orie, who was accused of similar charges and also served as an aide to Orie Melvin.[22]

April 2010-March 2011

In April 2010, Orie Melvin's sisters, Jane Orie and Janine Orie were accused by an Allegheny County grand jury of using public offices and staff to aid Orie Melvin's 2009 judicial campaign. Jane Orie resigned from her position as Republican whip in the state Senate, although she said the accusations were politically motivated. Likewise, Janine Orie, an aide to Orie Melvin, took leave from her position.[23][24]

At the time, Janine Orie's attorney, James DePaquale, indicated Orie Melvin's conduct was going to be investigated by an Allegheny County grand jury. Orie Melvin's attorney responded and said, "I am not aware of any grand jury in session."[25][26]

This trial ended in March 2011, after the judge declared a mistrial.[27]

Judicial pay

Orie Melvin was outspoken about her disapproval of a cost of living allowance given to state judges. In 2006, she sued the administrative office of the Pennsylvania Unified Judicial System because her salary increased from $145,000 to $162,000 under a July 2005 pay increase for judges, top state officials and lawmakers. The pay raise was repealed by lawmakers in November of 2005. Since she did not support the pay raise, Orie Melvin said, "We're just going to keep sending the paychecks back until they do the right thing. Our position is, at this point, that it's not our money."[28]

Political ideology

See also: Political ideology of State Supreme Court Justices

In October 2012, political science professors Adam Bonica and Michael Woodruff of Stanford University attempted to determine the partisan ideology of state supreme court justices in their paper, State Supreme Court Ideology and 'New Style' Judicial Campaigns. A score above 0 indicated a more conservative leaning ideology while scores below 0 are more liberal. Melvin received a Campaign finance score (CFscore) of 0.36, indicating a conservative ideological leaning. This is more conservative than the average CF score of -0.02 that justices received in Pennsylvania. The study is based on data from campaign contributions by judges themselves, the partisan leaning of contributors to the judges or, in the absence of elections, the ideology of the appointing body (governor or legislature). This study is not a definitive label of a justice, but an academic gauge of various factors.[29]

See also

External links


  1. 1.0 1.1 Pittsburgh Post-Gazette, "Jury finds Orie Melvin guilty on all but one count," February 21, 2013
  2. Trib Live, "Suspended state Justice Joan Orie Melvin to resign," March 25, 2013
  3. Project Vote Smart, "Joan Orie Melvin's Biography (PA)," accessed December 12, 2013
  4. 4.0 4.1 4.2 Pennsylvania Unified Judicial System, "Biography of the Honorable Joan Orie Melvin"
  5., Allegheny County Investigating Grand Jury release
  6. Pittsburgh Tribune, "Orie Melvin headed to trial on seven of nine charges," July 31, 2012
  7., "Judge rejects call to resign," May 20, 2012
  8., "Pa. Supreme Court Justice Joan Orie Melvin guilty on all but 1 count," February 21, 2013
  9., "Orie Melvin declines to testify, defense rests," February 14, 2013
  10. The Associated Press, "Pennsylvania Supreme Court Justice Joan Orie Melvin says charges against are 'politically motivated'," May 18, 2012
  11. Pittsburgh Post-Gazette, "Orie Melvin, sister guilty of corruption, put on house arrest," May 7, 2013
  12. CBS Pittsburgh, "Orie Melvin Sentenced To 3 Years House Arrest," May 7, 2013
  13. Pittsburgh Post-Gazette, "DA suggests Orie Melvin get jail in lieu of apology," October 8, 2013
  14. Pittsburgh Post-Gazette, "Pennsylvania Superior Court stays letter-writing part of Joan Orie Melvin's sentence," November 6, 2013
  15. Pittsburgh Post-Gazette, "Judge suspends Joan Orie Melvin's corruption sentence," November 15, 2013
  16., "Former Pa. Justice Joan Orie Melvin's appeal cites alleged bias of trial judge," December 10, 2013
  17. The Bulletin, "Joan Orie Melvin: A Reformer's Bid for The Supreme Court," May 5, 2009
  18. Pennsylvania Secretary of State, 2009 Municipal Election Results
  19., "Sen. Jane Orie convicted on 14 counts of theft of services, conflict of interest, forgery," March 26, 2012
  20., "Calls grow for Supreme Court Justice Melvin to resign," January 18, 2012
  21., "Sen. Jane Orie's theft conviction could mean bad news for her judge sister," March 27, 2012
  22., "Pennsylvania Senator Jane Orie charged with theft of service, resigns from leadership post," April 7, 2010
  23. Gavel Grab, "Sisters of PA Justice Face Charges over Campaign," April 8, 2010
  24. Post-Gazette, "Justice's conduct being probed," July 1, 2010
  25. Gavel Grab, "PA Justice to be Grand Jury Focus?," July 7, 2010
  26. Pittsburgh Post-Gazette, "Justice Joan Orie Melvin staying on state Supreme Court amid probe," January 11, 2012
  27. Pittsburgh Post Tribune, "Judge Joan Orie Melvin Sues over Pay Raise," December 2, 2006
  28. Stanford University, "State Supreme Court Ideology and 'New Style' Judicial Campaigns," October 31, 2012