A stay has been entered, delaying for now the imposition of former state Supreme Court Justice Joan Orie Melvin’s sentence stemming from her conviction on political corruption charges.
Allegheny County Court of Common Pleas Judge Lester G. Nauhaus issued an order in Commonwealth v. Orie Melvin on Friday granting a stay of Orie Melvin’s sentence, court documents said. Her sentence included three years of house arrest and a requirement that she send out pictures of herself with signed apologies to the judiciary, her staff, family and others. The order was made orally from the bench Friday.
Nauhaus’ order comes less than 10 days after the Superior Court stayed the portion of her sentence requiring her to send the signed apology photos.
“The judge made it quite clear that if one of the pillars of the sentence were to fall, then the entire sentence should be vacated and there should be a resentencing,” said Michael Manko, a spokesman for the Allegheny County District Attorney’s Office, via email. “We have made it clear in previous filings that the letters of apology are pivotal to the completion of this sentence and if the Superior Court should vacate that portion of the sentence, then we believe that there should be a resentencing and everything, including incarceration, should be considered at that time.”
Orie Melvin had been ordered to send the apologies to every member of her staff and every member of the senatorial staff of her sister and former state senator, Jane Orie, who she ordered to conduct political work even though it is not allowed under the law for government employees to do so.
A unanimous three-judge Superior Court panel granted Orie Melvin’s application for stay Nov. 6, reasoning that requiring her to apologize while the appeal of her conviction is still pending could compromise or waive her Fifth Amendment privilege against self-incrimination.
Abraham C. Reich of Fox Rothschild in Philadelphia said that he felt the decision indicated that Nauhaus will likely resentence Orie Melvin and is taking steps to craft a more appropriate sentence.
“The trial judge tried to be creative in his sentence, and as a result it created potentially some novel issues to be addressed,” he said. “It is appropriate and reflective of a trial judge trying to do the right thing. She’d been convicted and he’s trying to find the right sentence.”
However, Wesley Oliver, an associate professor of law at Duquesne University, said he found the order puzzling.
“I don’t have any sense that the Superior Court’s staying of the letters is in any way connected with the term of house arrest,” he said. “I’m not sure how they regarded that as a connected issue.”
Oliver added that he was likewise perplexed at the reported objections of Orie Melvin’s defense team to the order.
“Imagine she’d been in jail all this time, and [Nauhaus] said, ‘In light of the stay of the sentence, I’m going to let her out.’ I can’t imagine she’s going to have a claim,” he said, adding that most defendants prefer a bond pending appeal. “I don’t know what her harm is.”
The Superior Court had granted Orie Melvin’s request for a temporary stay of the apology portion of her sentence in early October.
In an Oct. 8 response to Orie Melvin’s request for a stay, the prosecution said the apology requirement is “key” to Nauhaus’ sentencing scheme and argued that if that portion of the sentence is permanently stayed, Nauhaus should be given the opportunity to devise a new sentence for Orie Melvin because he “may be faced with a defendant who can only be rehabilitated by going to prison,” according to the Superior Court’s opinion.
Orie Melvin’s attorney, Daniel T. Brier of Myers, Brier & Kelly in Scranton, Pa., did not immediately return a call for comment Friday afternoon.