From the moment it was imposed in May, the sentence given to disgraced state Supreme Court Justice Joan Orie Melvin appeared extraordinarily lenient and too clever by half. The folly of that cleverness is now all-too clear.
Orie Melvin was convicted in February of six counts involving conspiracy, theft of services and misapplication of government funds. She ripped off the taxpayers of Pennsylvania by doing campaign work on state time.
But there was no prison for the former judge, despite the abuse of her lofty position in the public trust. Allegheny County Common Pleas Judge Lester Nauhaus had harsh words for her behavior, but he gave her a slap on the wrist — three years’ house arrest, two years’ probation, community service and a $55,000 fine.
Judge Nauhaus also tried to shame her by ordering that she be photographed in handcuffs and that she write notes of apology on the front of the pictures and send them to all judges and justices in Pennsylvania. In old-fashioned kids’ terms, this was the equivalent of making her repeatedly write an abject note on a blackboard. In the context of her light sentence, we called this the final absurdity in an editorial at the time.
Unfortunately, the absurdity didn’t end there. Orie Melvin refused to send out any apologies, arguing that this would be an admission of guilt, thus violating her rights against self-incrimination. As long as she is still appealing her conviction, she appears to have a point. She asked that Judge Nauhaus stay or rescind that portion of the sentence and she asked Superior Court for an emergency motion to stay the sentence, which was granted.
Now it gets more complicated. The Allegheny County district attorney’s office has filed a response saying that if she does not send the letters, she should be resentenced and face jail time. That is a good point, too.
What a pickle, and all because she wasn’t sent to prison at first. If there is a new sentence, house arrest must end with a trip to jail. Enough with the cleverness; bring on justice.