- Associated Press - Monday, September 21, 2015

PITTSBURGH (AP) - Former Pennsylvania Supreme Court justice Joan Orie Melvin has filed a federal appeal of her campaign corruption conviction and sentence.

Among other claims, Melvin argues she was wrongly prosecuted for violating work rules - not state laws - governing how and when state employees can do political work. She also contends being forced to write apologies to every other state judge as part of her sentence violated her right against self-incrimination.

“The primary purpose of the appeal is to have the court find that the use of the workplace rule to prosecute Melvin is criminalizing HR (or human resources) rules,” Melvin’s attorney, Patrick Casey told The Associated Press on Monday. Melvin faced sanctions as stiff as removal from office if the Pennsylvania Court of Judicial Discipline found that she wrongly used her staff to campaign, Casey said, so any attempt to criminalize her behavior beyond that is illegal.

Melvin, 59, a Republican from Pittsburgh’s North Hills suburbs, resigned from office after her 2013 conviction and was fined $55,000 and sentenced to three years of house arrest for using her state-paid Superior Court staff to work on her Supreme Court campaigns. Melvin ran unsuccessfully in 2003 and was elected to the state’s highest court in 2009.

The high-profile case - Melvin became only the second sitting Pennsylvania Supreme Court justice convicted of a crime - gained more notoriety when Allegheny County Judge Lester Nauhaus ordered her photographed in handcuffs in chambers immediately after sentencing her.

Nauhaus did so because he wanted Melvin to send the signed apologies to other judges on copies of the picture. But the state Superior Court rejected the photograph requirement, saying it served only to “shame and humiliate her.”

The latest appeal argues that the letters violate Melvin’s right not to incriminate herself, because Nauhaus ordered they be sent before she could appeal.

Melvin sent the letters in April after dropping her state appeals in October. She said she would have sent the letters sooner, except Nauhaus objected to her original language, which was rife with legalese.

“I was accused of misusing my office to assist in my campaigns for Supreme Court in 2003 and 2009. I plead not guilty. I was afforded a trial and I was found guilty,” the original apology letter said. The final letter approved by Nauhaus, said, in part, “I fully acknowledge any harm caused by my crimes and accept responsibility for my conduct.”

Casey said Melvin opted for a federal appeal because federal judges are better versed on the constitutional issues she raises and are appointed for life, not elected, like state judges.

Mike Manko, the spokesman for District Attorney Stephen Zappala Jr., whose office prosecuted Melvin, said the appeal issues are nothing new.

The claim that Melvin’s staff violated only work rules, not laws, “was previously litigated at trial and found to be without merit and as such continues to be without merit,” Manko said.

Melvin was convicted of theft of services, misapplying government property and conspiracy.

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