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Justice's sister faces new fraud counts

Janine Orie had staff do campaign work, officials say. She and Sen. Jane Orie both face retrial.

PITTSBURGH - A sister of Pennsylvania Supreme Court Justice Joan Orie Melvin has been ordered to stand trial on charges she directed state-paid staffers to illegally do campaign work for Melvin while the justice was a judge on a lower appellate court.

Janine Orie, 57, will stand trial in February along with a third sister, Pittsburgh-area Republican State Sen. Jane Orie.

The charges will be added to a retrial scheduled for February for Jane and Janine Orie on charges that they similarly directed the senator's state-funded staff to do campaign work benefiting the senator and Melvin over the last decade.

That trial will also include 16 newer charges against the senator, including perjury and forgery. Allegheny County prosecutors contend that some of Jane Orie's testimony was false and that some of the documents she submitted during the sisters' first trial were forgeries.

The trial ended in a mistrial in March when a judge agreed that one document used to undercut the key witness, Jane Orie's former chief of staff, was a forgery.

Melvin has not been charged with a crime in connection with either set of charges.

Janine Orie did not comment after Thursday's preliminary hearing, nor did J. Alan Johnson, a former federal prosecutor who attended the hearing as Melvin's attorney.

Janine Orie's attorney, James DePasquale, argued during the hearing that any campaign work Janine Orie may have done or directed Melvin's Superior Court law clerks and other staff to do was minimal.

"I don't know how anyone can spend a whole day doing campaign work and still get their judicial work done," DePasquale said. "That makes no sense to me."

Much of the testimony at Thursday's three-hour preliminary hearing involved Melvin's unsuccessful 2003 bid for a Supreme Court seat against Justice Max Baer, who remains on the court and who now employs as a law clerk Lisa Sasinoski, a key witness against Janine Orie.

Sasinoski, the wife of Allegheny County Court Judge Kevin Sasinoski, told investigators that she left Melvin's staff in December 2003 after she balked at doing some political work at Janine Orie's behest.

On Thursday, Lisa Sasinoski and other staff detailed such work, including working polls, traveling with Melvin to campaign events across the state, and writing speeches.

"I stood in the back while she delivered the speech that I wrote," Lisa Sasinoski testified about one event.

She said she realized such work was illegal, but didn't generally object to doing the work.