Last updated: March 16. 2013 9:25PM - 227 Views
By JOE MANDAK, Associated Press

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PITTSBURGH — Defense attorneys for suspended Pennsylvania Supreme Court Justice Joan Orie Melvin called their first witnesses Friday to attack the credibility of prosecution witnesses, especially a former law clerk who contends she was fired for objecting to political work.

But attorneys for both sides spent most of their time arguing whether records produced by one witness, the deputy recorder for the state Superior Court, are relevant. Dolores Bianco brought reams of reports that show how many cases Melvin and her staff handled annually when she was still a judge on the Superior Court.

Melvin, 56, and her sister and suspended aide, Janine Orie, 58, are charged with conspiracy, theft of services and other crimes for allegedly using Melvin's taxpayer-funded Superior Court staff to work on her 2003 and 2009 campaigns for the state's highest court, and similarly using the taxpayer-funded staffers of a third sister, then state Sen. Jane Orie, 51.

The defense contends Bianco's records show Melvin and her staff did their court work and, in some instances, handled more cases than most other Superior Court judges. They contend taxpayers weren't ripped off if the work was done and, further, that Melvin's staff wouldn't have had time to do political work on state time if they were that productive.

Allegheny County Judge Lester Nauhaus disagreed, saying that proof that Melvin and her staff did their work doesn't disprove they also campaigned on state time.

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