- Associated Press - Friday, February 7, 2014

PITTSBURGH (AP) - Former Pennsylvania Supreme Court Justice Joan Orie Melvin’s campaign corruption conviction, sentence and court-ordered apology should all be upheld by a state appeals court, prosecutors argued in a Superior Court filing Friday.

And if the apology - which Melvin was ordered to mail to every judge in the state on copies of pictures of her in handcuffs - is overturned, Allegheny County District Attorney Stephen Zappala Jr. contends the entire sentence should be vacated and Melvin re-sentenced, which could possibly land her a prison term rather than house arrest.

“If this Court finds the apology letters to be unconstitutional, then the case needs to be remanded to the trial court for resentencing because the sentencing scheme would be drastically disrupted,” the prosecutors argued.

Melvin’s attorneys declined comment on the 109-page brief, which responded to 15 defense arguments Melvin’s attorneys filed in December, seeking to overturn Melvin’s conviction, sentence or both.

The defense has claimed Common Pleas Judge Lester Nauhaus was biased in his rulings and comments from the bench before Melvin was convicted in February.

Melvin, 57, was sentenced in May to probation that included three years’ house arrest and other penalties after being convicted along with her sister and former aide, Janine Orie, 59, of directing Melvin’s state-paid Superior Court staff to campaign for her. The jury found that Melvin’s staff worked on her unsuccessful 2003 campaign for the state’s highest court, and, again, on her victorious 2009 campaign.

Former Sen. Jane Orie, a third sister, was convicted in March 2012 and sentenced to prison by another judge. She is scheduled to be released from prison Sunday for using her own state-paid staff on her own campaigns.

Although Jane Orie was acquitted of directing her Senate staff to work on Melvin’s campaigns, Melvin and Janine Orie also were convicted of misusing the senator’s staffers to politic for Melvin.

Nauhaus chided Melvin for her “stunning arrogance” and included several conditions in her sentence to address that, while at the same time stopping short of imprisoning her. Those terms included a $55,000 fine and a requirement that Melvin work in a soup kitchen three days a week - as well as the apology she was to mail on autographed copies of a picture Nauhaus ordered taken moments after her sentencing.

Melvin’s attorneys have argued the court-ordered apology amounts to unconstitutional self-incrimination. Anticipating that, Nauhaus ordered that Melvin’s photographic apologies could not be used against her should she win a new trial on appeal, but her attorneys have insisted that part of her sentence remains illegal.

Zappala and Deputy District Attorney Michael Streily argue that’s not so - especially since Melvin apologized in court just before she was sentenced.

“Appellant’s in-court apology is already a physical fact which can never be denied and for which she can always be questioned. She did it voluntarily. She did it while standing next to counsel,” the prosecutors wrote. “Requiring her to extend it to others … does not constitute compelled self-incrimination.”

“All she has to do is write the words she spoke in court onto the photograph,” the prosecutors argued, before quoting Melvin’s apology verbatim from the trial transcript:

“I have always prided myself in being a role model to my children. And I am sorry for all the loss, suffering, and pain you have endured for the past five years. I’m saddened and sorry for the circumstances that brought me before the Court.”

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