Supreme Court Justice Joan Orie Melvin is charged with using her former Superior Court staff to campaign for her in 2003 and again in 2009 when she finally won a seat on the state's highest court.
Her sister Janine Orie, who headed the Superior Court staff, is charged with helping direct the campaigning and with conspiring with a third sister, former state Sen. Jane Orie, to use the lawmaker's state paid staff to campaign for Melvin, too.
Jane Orie has resigned and is serving 2 1/2 to 10 years in prison after she was convicted of misusing her staff to campaign on her behalf and for forging defense documents that led to a mistrial last year before her conviction in March. She was acquitted of charges she directed her staff to campaign for Melvin.
Attorneys for Melvin and Janine Orie on Tuesday asked Allegheny County Judge Jeffrey Manning to try the sisters separately, arguing some of the criminal allegations against each are unrelated and, if heard together, could prejudice the jury against one or both.
Additionally, Janine Orie's attorney, James DePasquale, argues she's waited long enough for her trial since the charges involving Jane Orie's staff were filed in 2010 while newer charges that relate directly to Melvin's staff were filed in December.
DePasquale told the judge "enough is enough." He said he was "ready to go to trial right now," though he has agreed to let Janine Orie's trial, which had been scheduled to begin Aug. 13, be pushed back until October, to give Manning time to rule on whether to join the cases.
Deputy District Attorneys Lawrence Claus and William Becker want the women tried together, arguing that the allegations relate to one course of conduct even if some of the allegations against Melvin don't directly involve Janine Orie and vice versa. Becker argued the same witnesses and evidence will be used against them.
Manning promised a ruling soon, as did a judge in Harrisburg in a separate matter involving Melvin.
President Judge Robert Curran, of the state Court of Judicial Discipline, heard arguments Tuesday about whether Melvin should lose her $195,000 annual salary while she remains suspended as she defends herself against the criminal charges. Curran said he expects to rule within two weeks.
An attorney for the Judicial Conduct Board argued Melvin shouldn't be paid while she's suspended because she can't render court opinions or do other work. Melvin's attorney in that proceeding, William Arbuckle III, argued that taking away her pay over yet-to-be proved allegations could compromise judicial integrity.
In Pittsburgh, Melvin's criminal attorney, Patrick Casey, argued the justice would be "incredibly prejudiced" if one jury were to hear evidence of the "overlapping conspiracies" prosecutors say involve her former staff and those of the former senator.