Sunday, December 18, 2011
"WELL, IF YOU CAN'T HANDLE IT..."
In an explosive grand jury presentment issued Friday afternoon, Allegheny County District Attorney Steve Zappalla describes in great detail how Supreme Court Justice Joan Orie Melvin ran her political campaigns for nearly 20 years from her taxpayer funded judicial offices using her taxpayer funded judicial staff. Most incredibly, the illegal activity occurred during her successful 2009 Supreme Court campaign...after the first "bonusgate" arrests in 2008. You can read the entire presentment here.
The law is crystal clear. At no time can judicial staff work on political campaigns, even as volunteers. Period. And, of course, as with all taxpayer offices, at no time are taxpayer funded judicial office space, material or equipment to be used on campaigns:
"And now, this 24th day of November, 1998, the prohibition against political activity by court-appointed employees is hereby reaffirmed..."partisan political activity" shall include, but is not limited to...working at a polling place on Election Day, performing volunteer work in a political campaign, solicitiing contributions for political campaigns..." (Supreme Court of Pennsylvania, In Re: Prohibited Political Activity By Court Appointed Employees)
Yet, Friday's grand jury presentment announcing further charges against Orie Melvin's sister, Janine, for directing the Judge's staff to work on the campaigns of her sister, showed blatant disregard for the law. Make no mistake...Janine Orie wasn't a rogue element operating outside the Judge's knowledge.
On page after page of the presentment, grand jury witnesses describe how Orie Melvin directly ordered them to do campaign work, was in the presence of her judicial employees at campaign events, and even used judicial resources for her campaigns herself:
"Sasinoski also described a period of time in 2003 when she overheard Orie Melvin in her chambers on her office telephone soliciting multiple Republican committee people in furtherance of her own campaign for Supreme Court Justice. Sasinoski stated that she knew that the judicial telephone within Orie Melvin's office had been used for these political contacts that she had overheard being done by Judge Orie Melvin because several months later she, Sasinoski, was berated by Janine Orie about the high telephone bills that had been incurred by the office; Janine blamed those high bills on Sasinoski and the other law clerks. As a result of this chastisement, Sasinoski subsequently requested detailed billing records for those phone calls. The records that were received displayed the billing in greater detail and those records reflected that the overwhelming majority of the additional billed calls were from both Orie Melvin's office extension and the additional telephone line that had been installed by the court at the residence of Orie Melvin. Those billing records further indicated calls to telephone numbers across the state during the very same time period in which Orie Melvin had been overheard by Sasinoski as Orie Melvin telephoned various Republican committee people. Sasinoski advised that there were between 280 and 400 committee people, and it was her understanding that Orie Melvin contacted each on of them during that time." (Pages 6 and 7)
When a staff person directly addressed all the illegal activity with Orie Melvin directly, that staff person was summarily fired:
"On a Monday in early December 2003 (after Orie Melvin's failed bid for a seat on the Supreme Court), Sasinoski approached Orie Melvin and told her that the political activities that had occurred in the office in the past need to cease, and that she (Sasinoski) could not do them anymore. According to Sasinoski, Orie Melvin stated, 'Well, if you can't handle it...' then turned to answer an incoming telephone call. Sasinoski then got up and left the office and went back to work...the following day, Sasinoski was directed by Janine to turn in her building ID card and her court ID, and to clear out her desk. When asked why, Janine reportedly advised Sasinoski that she would need to talk to Orie Melvin...and her employment with Orie Melvin ceased at that time." (Page 9 and 10)
Friday's presentment is no different than those issued by gubernatorial candidate Tom Corbett in 2008 and 2009 against members of the state legislature. Last October, Pittsburgh television station WPXI ran a report that said Orie Melvin would be arrested for illegally using Senator Jane Orie's state legislative staff for her 2009 Supreme Court race. (WPXI 10/13/10) Now, this detailed expose of Orie Melvin's own staff being illegally used for her campaigns can only mean it is a matter of days before she is finally arrested.