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Thursday, February 29, 2024
Courthouse News Service
Thursday, February 29, 2024 | Back issues
Courthouse News Service Courthouse News Service

Herpes Suit Can Factor Into Corruption Trial

(CN) - A woman's herpes infection will factor into the corruption trial of a suspended justice of the Pennsylvania Supreme Court, a federal judge ruled.

Pennsylvania Supreme Court Justice Joan Orie Melvin is accused of theft of services and criminal conspiracy for using her staff to work on her 2003 and 2009 campaigns. Soon after prosecutors filed charges against her in May 2012, Melvin voluntarily recused herself from official duties, and the Pennsylvania Judicial Conduct Board officially suspended her.

Prosecutors say Melvin's campaigns also improperly benefitted from staff who worked for her sister, Jane Orie, a former Pennsylvania state senator. A third sister, Janine Orie, also faces charges of furthering the conspiracy.

Sen. Orie was convicted on 14 of 24 criminal counts in March and sentenced to 2 ½ to 10 years in prison.

Jamie Pavlot, former chief of staff to Sen. Orie, has been reportedly granted immunity to testify against the sisters.

On Monday she told jurors for the Allegheny County Court of Common Pleas that removed two boxes from Sen. Orie's office on Nov. 1, 2009.

Soon afterward, Sen. Orie and Justice Melvin allegedly told Pavlot to pull out "anything political" from the boxes.

"I said OK, but I didn't do it," Pavlot said, as reported by the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette.

Pavlot said she instead turned the boxes over to her attorney.

Justice Orie succeeded last week in having the Western District of Pennsylvania unseal its record of a 2010 complaint Pavlot filed against her ex-boyfriend.

In that case, Pavlot claimed that the man gave her an incurable case of herpes during their 4 1/2-year relationship. The ex asserted in counterclaims that Pavlot had transmitted the disease to him.

The court had given Pavlot leave to proceed pseudonymously, and the case was eventually mediated, settled and closed within four months.

After Justice Melvin moved under seal to identify Pavlot as the plaintiff in that case, the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette filed its own motion to make the matter public.

Chief U.S. District Judge Gary Lancaster unsealed the case on Friday, and denied the newspaper's motion as moot.

Sealing Pavlot's case violates both the public's common law rights and Melvin's constitutional rights to confront witnesses against her at the criminal trial.

"Although we stop short of labeling Jane Doe's original request improper, we do recognize that at the time she filed this lawsuit she was already involved in the criminal investigation of Melvin, and was a public employee serving as chief of staff to a Pennsylvania state senator, who is Melvin's sister," Lancaster wrote. "As such, she likely feared that any filings she might make in this case would garner more public interest than would typically be expected. Although this motive is not necessarily illicit, it falls short of an objectively legitimate need to proceed anonymously." (9)

Relying on the 3rd Circuit's ruling in Doe v. Megless, Lancaster found that Pavlot's "embarrassment or economic harm is not enough" to maintain her anonymity.

"Jane Doe voluntarily placed details of her personal life at issue by filing a civil lawsuit in federal court and availing herself of this court's jurisdiction, procedures, and remedies," the 12-page ruling states. "G.L. took the same action by filing a counterclaim against Jane Doe. Finally, although Jane Doe contends that maintaining her anonymity will encourage other victims to assert their rights, it is important to recognize that this was nothing more than a civil case seeking monetary relief in tort for damages arising out of a consensual sexual relationship. The court struggles to find an overarching public interest in protecting private litigants' rights to sue each other in federal court under such circumstances."

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