Pa. appeals court stays letter-writing part of former Supreme Court Justice Orie Melvin's public corruption sentence

By Jon Campisi | Oct 10, 2013

A controversial aspect of former state Supreme Court Justice Joan Orie

Melvin’s sentence stemming from her public corruption conviction has been delayed by a lower-tier appellate court. The Pennsylvania Superior Court recently issued a temporary stay of the part of Orie Melvin’s sentencing that ordered her to write apology letters to every single jurist in the commonwealth. In late September, the disgraced former justice’s lawyer filed a petition seeking to have this portion of her sentence stayed pending disposition of her appeal. In an Oct. 2 per curiam order, Superior Court Judge Donohue granted the defense request preventing the letter-writing part of Orie Melvin’s punishment from moving forward at this point in time. Donohue further directed prosecutors to file an answer to Orie Melvin’s application for a stay by Oct. 11. The appellate bench determined that sending apology letters to other judges could be considered self-incrimination, which would be unfair as Orie Melvin pursues an appeal of her conviction and sentence. The Allegheny County District Attorney’s Office has reportedly challenged the Superior Court’s decision. The website, which is powered by the Pittsburgh Tribune Review, reported this week that on Tuesday an assistant prosecutor with the Allegheny County District Attorney’s Office argued before the Superior Court that Orie Melvin should be forced to write the apology letters, lest she remain an “arrogant, power-abusing, convicted felon.” Attorneys representing Orie Melvin have reportedly challenged the letter-writing portion of their client’s sentence as illegal. The sentence was handed down by Allegheny County Common Pleas Court Judge Lester Nauhaus. Allegheny County Deputy District Attorney Michael W. Streily argued before the appeals court that Melvin isn’t being forced to make an admission of guilt through her letters; rather, he argued, the former judge is simply being required to pen on photographs of herself words she already spoke in open court, according to TribLive. “She will suffer no injury if she complies with Judge Nauhaus’ directive,” the prosecutor said, according to the website. Another western Pennsylvania newspaper, the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette, reported Wednesday that the District Attorney’s Office is arguing that if Orie Melvin doesn’t fulfill the letter-writing requirement, she should be resentenced. Prosecutors argue that writing the apology letters is a central aspect of Orie Melvin’s punishment, and that if she fails to pen the apologies on photos of herself in handcuffs she would be skipping out on the only part of her sentence that could rehabilitate her, the Post-Gazette reported. The paper also noted that during sentencing, Judge Nauhaus specifically stated that the apology letters could not be used against Orie Melvin. Orie Melvin was found guilty earlier this year on public corruption charges for ordering court staff to work on her campaign for a seat on the high court, in 2003 and 2009 respectively. In addition to the letter-writing directive, Orie Melvin was sentenced to three years of house arrest, two years of probation, community service and a $55,000 fine. At the time of her crimes, Orie Melvin, a western Pennsylvania native, sat as a judge on the Superior Court.

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