Report: Court stays apology letter portion of former Pa. SC justice's sentence pending appeal

By Jessica M. Karmasek | Nov 7, 2013

PITTSBURGH (Legal Newsline) -- Former Pennsylvania Supreme Court Justice Joan Orie Melvin, who was convicted of corruption earlier this year, doesn't have to write letters of apology, a state Superior Court ruled Wednesday.

Last month, Melvin refused to write the apology letters to members of her staff and family members, arguing that doing so violates her privilege against self-incrimination.

The letters were required under her sentence. In May, Allegheny County Common Pleas Court Judge Lester Nauhaus gave Melvin three years of house arrest and ordered her to serve in a soup kitchen.

Nauhaus also ordered Melvin to write letters of apology to members of her staff and family members, and send a photo of herself along with the letters.

In addition to members of her staff and family, the judge ordered Melvin to send the letters to each member of the state's judiciary and her sister, former state Sen. Jane Orie's staff.

Last month, Melvin asked the Pennsylvania Superior Court for an emergency stay of that portion of her sentence after Nauhaus refused. The court agreed.

In an order Wednesday, a three-member panel of the court stayed the requirement pending the outcome of her direct appeal.

"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," Judge Christine Donohue wrote, according to the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette.

In February, Melvin and her sister, Janine Orie, were found guilty of corruption for using the justice's office staff to perform campaign work in 2003 and 2009.

Melvin and Orie also were found guilty of theft of services, conspiracy and misapplication of government funds. In addition, Orie was convicted of tampering with evidence and solicitation.

One count -- official oppression -- against Melvin could not be decided by the jury. Nauhaus declared the jurors hung on that count.

Jane Orie was convicted on similar public corruption charges last year and subsequently sentenced to 2 and 1/2 to 10 years in state prison.

Melvin resigned her seat on the state's high court in March.

From Legal Newsline: Reach Jessica Karmasek by email at jessica@legalnewsline.com.

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