Jon Campisi Nov. 18, 2013, 6:58am


The trial court judge who oversaw former state Supreme Court Justice

Joan Orie Melvin’s public corruption case has stayed the woman’s sentence while her appeal plays out before the Pennsylvania Superior Court.

Court records show that on Nov. 15, Allegheny County Common Pleas Court Judge Lester Nauhaus granted a stay of Orie Melvin’s sentence, which included three years of house arrest, community service and an unorthodox punishment ordering the disgraced former jurist to pen apology letters on a photo of herself in handcuffs and send them to judges across the commonwealth.

On Nov. 6, as previously reported by the Pennsylvania Record, a state appellate court panel stayed the letter-writing portion of Orie Melvin’s sentence.

The former justice had argued that forcing her to write apology letters would be “tantamount to a coerced confession and cannot be squared with the constitutionally mandated privilege against self-incrimination.”

A three-judge Superior Court panel refused to rule on the legality or constitutionality of the letter-writing portion of the sentence at this point in time, stating that those issues would be decided by the merits panel ruling on Orie Melvin’s appeal.

The appeals judges ruled that given the full appeal in the case, and the potential for a retrial, allowing the letter-writing portion of the sentence to move forward at this juncture would violate Orie Melvin’s right against self-incrimination.

Last week, the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette reported that Nauhaus, the trial judge, decided to suspend the entirety of Orie Melvin’s sentence so she could not be credited for time served while portions of the sentence, such as the letter-writing requirement, are appealed.

Nauhaus, the Post-Gazette reported, suspended Orie Melvin’s house arrest and probation, ordering Corrections Department officials to remove the electronic monitoring equipment out of Orie Melvin’s western Pennsylvania home.

“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!,” the newspaper quoted Nauhaus as saying in court during oral arguments.

The Post-Gazette quoted Orie Melvin’s defense lawyer, Patrick Casey, as saying that the judge’s move constituted a change in sentence, something that’s beyond Nauhaus’s jurisdiction and unconstitutional.

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