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Orie Melvin Will Stand Trial

Pennsylvania Supreme Court Justice Joan Orie Melvin will stand trial on seven charges of illegally using her publicly funded staff for her political campaigns for a seat on the court in 2003 and 2009, a judge ruled Tuesday.

The conservative Republican from Pittsburgh's North Hills suburbs has denied the charges and suggested they are a political vendetta by the county's Democratic district attorney, Stephen Zappala Jr.

Melvin, who has been suspended from the court, declined to comment on the judge's decision. Four of the charges she faces are felonies. Her arraignment is scheduled for Aug. 14. A trial date has not yet been set.

Meanwhile, Melvin's sister, former state Sen. Jane Orie, is serving a prison sentence for convictions on similar charges, and their sister, Janine Orie, faces trial in August.

Magisterial District Judge James J. Hanley Jr. on Tuesday dismissed two of the original nine charges against Melvin, but said the defense raised a number of issues during the two-day preliminary hearing that should be addressed at trial.

During the hearing, Melvin staff members and employees of other elected officials testified that they were asked or expected to do political work for Melvin while they were on the state payroll. In response, defense lawyers worked to create doubts about whether Melvin herself gave such orders or was even aware of actions taken by staff supervisors or campaign workers.

The judge dismissed one misdemeanor charge of official oppression and one of criminal solicitation, agreeing with the defense that the evidence didn't link Melvin to those charges.

Prosecutors allege Melvin knew that improper activity was taking place.

"I drove to various political events with the judge," said Jason Davidek, a one-time staff member for Jane Orie.

Davidek estimated he made about 20 such trips during the 2003 campaign season, and said political work for the judge took up about 30 percent of his working time.

Barbara Brown, another former staff member for the former senator, said she knew the requests for staff to do political work were wrong but "the senator indicated on several occasions that Joan was a priority."

"It's a known fact it's against the rules to do political work" while on the state payroll, she said.

Patrick Casey, an attorney for Melvin, repeatedly suggested the emails regarding political work that were sent from Melvin's personal account might have been sent by someone else, such as her daughter or another campaign staff member.

Brown said she assumed the emails were sent by the judge.

Tracy Kolich Hall, a consultant to the Melvin campaign in 2009, said she only made campaign calls to Melvin's personal cellphone but she also assumed the emails regarding campaign work were being sent by the judge.

Jane Orie was convicted of charges related to her own campaigns and is serving a prison sentence. She was acquitted of charges that she directed her legislative staff to work on Melvin's campaigns.

Copyright 2012 The Associated Press.