The Tribune Democrat, Johnstown, PA

February 4, 2013

State in brief 2/5/2013

License plates to honor vets

HARRISBURG – Pennsylvanians can display their support for military veterans with a new specialized license plate authorized by a state law enacted last year.

The “Honoring Our Veterans” plate costs $35, and nearly half that amount will go to a trust fund run by the state Department of Military and Veterans Affairs.

The money will fund grants to service organizations for veterans and other charities.

The new plates are illustrated with a bald eagle and an American flag.

The state Department of Transportation began selling them last month.

Melvin mistrial request denied

PITTSBURGH – A judge has rejected a request for a mistrial by the defense attorneys for suspended state Supreme Court Justice Joan Orie Melvin because the judge determined prosecutors made a mistake and didn’t commit purposeful misconduct.

Melvin’s attorneys asked for the mistrial Monday because the justice’s former Superior Court law clerk, Lisa Sasinoski, testified Friday that a handwritten document from the judge was a request to fill out a campaign endorsement questionnaire in 2003, when Melvin ran unsuccessfully for the Supreme Court.

In reality, the document was from 1998 and had nothing to do with political campaigning, but was instead a request from Melvin to have Sasinoski prepare answers for a continuing legal education discussion sponsored by the state bar association.

That’s relevant because Melvin, 56, and her suspended aide and sister, Janine Orie, 58, are on trial for allegedly conspiring to use Melvin’s state paid staff to do campaign work when she was a Superior Court judge running for the Supreme Court in 2003, when she lost, and again in 2009, when she won a seat on the state’s highest court.

Allegheny County Judge Lester Nauhaus agreed Sasinoski’s testimony was untrue. But the judge told Casey the defense was well-aware it was an honest mistake by Deputy District Attorney Lawrence Claus who handed Sasinoski the undated, handwritten cover page from Melvin, but not the four-page document that had been attached to it which proved Melvin was referring to the bar association event and not a campaign endorsement questionnaire.

Girl, 6, crashes mom’s car

PITTSBURGH – Pittsburgh police said a determined 6-year-old girl didn’t hurt anyone when she crashed her mother’s car while trying to drive across town to visit her father.

Police haven’t released the name of the girl whose mother was reportedly still sleeping when the girl took the woman’s car keys about 9 a.m. Sunday.

Police Sgt. Jerry Parker told reporters the little girl is tall for her age, but added: “How she knew how to operate a car, your guess is as good as mine.”

Police said the girl hit two parked vehicles, pushing one of them into a third, before hitting a utility pole.

Faculty panel OKs contract

HARRISBURG – A negotiating committee for the union representing faculty at Pennsylvania’s state-owned universities unanimously approved a tentative contract agreement on Monday, a key step toward ending a labor dispute that’s lasted more than 18 months.

The Association of Pennsylvania State College and University Faculties said the panel made up of union leaders from the 14 campuses approved the proposal during a statewide teleconference.  The agreement with the State System of Higher Education will be presented Friday to the union’s legislative assembly, which could send it to the rank and file for ratification.

Officials said the four-year deal mirrors the agreements reached by Gov. Tom Corbett and the other statewide unions and includes changes to the health care plan, including increased co-pays for office visits, emergency room visits, and prescription medications.