Pa. judge’s fundraiser: Worked with state staff

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PITTSBURGH – The paid campaign fundraiser for suspended Pennsylvania Supreme Court Justice Joan Orie Melvin testified Wednesday she never knew who managed Melvin’s 2009 campaign, but worked closely with Melvin’s sister and aide, Janine Orie, whenever she had something that required immediate attention.


The Philadelphia-based fundraiser, Joanne Tsucalas, testified on the ninth day of the campaign corruption trial of Melvin, 56, and Orie, 58.


The sisters are charged with conspiring to illegally use Melvin’s state-funded Superior Court staff – and the state-funded staff of a third sister, then-Sen. Jane Orie – to run Melvin’s campaigns for a Supreme Court seat in 2003 and 2009.


Jane Orie, 51, resigned her Senate seat in May after she was convicted of illegally using her state-funded staff to raise campaign funds and work on her re-election campaigns from 2001 to 2009. She was acquitted of charges she used her staff to illegally campaign for Melvin. She’s serving 2½ to 10 years in prison.


Tsucalas testified Wednesday about several emails involving Melvin and both sisters that pertained to fundraising efforts for the 2009 campaign, during which Melvin won a seat on the state’s highest court. Tsucalas said she also got daily fundraising updates from a member of Sen. Orie’s staff, Joshua Dott.


When a news reporter tried to contact Melvin for a story on her campaign, the request was forwarded to Tsucalas who, in turn, forwarded it to Janine Orie because, Tsucalas said, she “was not informed who the campaign manager was.”


Allegheny County prosecutors alleged Melvin didn’t need or have a campaign manager because Janine Orie and other state-paid staffers of Melvin and Jane Orie functioned as Melvin’s campaign staff.


Tsucalas testified, for example, that Dott sent her “daily updates” on fundraising checks that poured into Melvin’s campaign coffers in 2009. As far as Tsucalas knew, Dott was just “someone that was involved in the campaign” – as was Jamie Pavlot, Sen. Orie’s chief of staff. Pavlot and Dott have previously testified they worked on Melvin’s campaign along with other members of the former lawmaker’s staff and several of Melvin’s court staffers.


But on cross-examination, Melvin’s attorney, Daniel Brier, used Tsucalas to minimize the allegedly illegal campaign work – especially that done by Janine Orie, who was then Melvin’s Superior Court aide, and that done by then-Sen. Orie’s staff.


Among other things, Tsucalas noted several key emails involving the 2009 campaign work were sent on days when court and legislative employees were off, including a Sunday, the Columbus Day holiday and one day in September when the courts shut down because of protests surrounding the Group of 20 economic summit, which met in Pittsburgh that year.


Tsucalas also acknowledged many of the emails involving Janine Orie saw her “relaying” information between Melvin and others rather than being a key player. At one point, Tsucalas agreed with Brier that Janine Orie’s emails played an “incidental or small part” in raising money for Melvin.


Tsucalas also noted that she had to “recreate” a spreadsheet that Dott used to track Melvin campaign donations from one Pittsburgh fundraiser. She testified that event brought in 50 or fewer checks which, she said, would have taken her five to 30 minutes a day to put in a database, implying that Dott’s work doing the same thing was minimal.


The prosecution was expected to call its final witnesses today.


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