PITTSBURGH - Two former staffers testified Monday at a preliminary hearing for state Supreme Court Justice Joan Orie Melvin that they felt uncomfortable when they were asked to do political work for her.
Melvin, 56, is accused of illegally using her taxpayer-funded staff when she was still a Superior Court judge to campaign for a seat on the high court in 2003 and again in 2009, when she won her Supreme Court race.
A grand jury found sufficient ground to charge Melvin. A judge was hearing evidence Monday to determine if prosecutors had enough evidence to take the case to trial.
The first witness for prosecutors was Molly Creenan, a former Melvin staffer who said she was asked to work a poll on an election day.
Creenan said she knew it was against the law and that expressed concerns to her supervisors and directly to Melvin. She said she also observed a state-owned printer, copier, and fax machine being used for political work.
"I told her that what happened in 2003 cannot happen in 2009," Creenan said of a conversation she had with Melvin about staff doing political work. Other staff members continued to do such work for the judge, she said.
Melvin, a Republican from Pittsburgh's North Hills suburbs, has denied the charges and suggested they are a political vendetta by Allegheny County's Democratic district attorney, Stephen Zappala Jr.
Melvin's attorney, Patrick Casey, pressed Creenan for details on the political forms she claimed to have filled out on Melvin's behalf. Creenan said she did not have copies of the forms in question and did not remember the exact wording of what she wrote.
Former Melvin staff member Lisa Sasinoski also testified, saying she was present when state staffers were told they had to work a poll.
Sasinoski said she also was pressured to make up expense vouchers for Melvin's campaign, and that she was fired in December 2003 after complaining about what she called nonstop illegal campaign activities.
Melvin's sister, former State Sen. Jane Orie, is in prison after being convicted on similar charges related to her own campaigns. Orie was acquitted of charges that she directed her legislative staff to work on Melvin's campaigns.