May 18, 2012 / 8:50 PM / in 6 years

Pennsylvania Supreme Court judge charged with corruption

(Reuters) - Pennsylvania Supreme Court Justice Joan Orie Melvin was charged on Friday with illegally using her taxpayer-funded staff to campaign for her seat on the state’s highest court.

Orie Melvin was suspended from the bench on Friday, a day after nine criminal counts against her were recommended by a grand jury in Common Pleas Court in Allegheny County in Western Pennsylvania.

She is the third sister in a prominent Pennsylvania political family to be charged with corruption. State Senator Jane Orie, who served as majority whip in the Senate, was convicted two months ago of using her taxpayer-funded legislative staff to help campaign for her job. She is awaiting sentencing.

Another sister, Janine Orie, faces trial on August 13 on charges she used her sisters’ judicial and legislative staffs to campaign for Orie Melvin.

A lawyer for Orie Melvin said she had recused herself from her judicial duties but had no plans to resign.

“The justice denies any criminal wrongdoing and will vigorously defend these politically motivated criminal charges,” her attorney, William Arbuckle III, said in letter to the chief justice of Pennsylvania’s Supreme Court.

Orie Melvin “directly and knowingly” used members of her judicial staff and her sister’s legislative staff to pursue a seat on Pennsylvania’s Supreme Court in 2003 and 2009, according to a grand jury report posted on the Allegheny County District Attorney’s Office website.

Her judicial staff members testified they wrote her campaign speeches, maintained a database of campaign contributions, filled out campaign questionnaires for endorsements from political action committees and attended political functions with Orie Melvin, according to the grand jury report.

The criminal complaint said Orie Melvin and her Republican lawmaker sister conspired to use Orie’s legislative staff in both of their campaigns. The other sister also helped direct campaign efforts, the report said.

The criminal charges against Orie Melvin include theft of services, criminal conspiracy to commit tampering with or fabricating physical evidence, official oppression and misapplication of entrusted property of government.

Editing by Barbara Goldberg and Bill Trott

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