Friday, September 29, 2023
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Mistrial Was Proper for Thieving PA Senator

(CN) - Former Pennsylvania state Sen. Jane Orie was properly retried on theft of services charges after she submitted forged documents into evidence, an appeals court ruled.

The dispute stems from a handwritten complaint filed by a graduate-student intern who said she had seen staff working on Sen. Orie's political campaign at the district office.

Prosecutors filed similar charges against the senator's sister, Pennsylvania Supreme Court Justice Joan Orie Melvin, in May 2012, claiming that her campaigns also improperly benefitted from Sen. Orie's staff. A third sister, Janine Orie, also faces conspiracy charges.

Sen. Orie's former chief of staff, Jamie Pavlot, told jurors in the state court trail that Justice Melvin and Sen. Orie had her pull out "anything political" from two boxes found in the senator's office in 2009. Pavlot said she secretly gave the files to her attorney.

Sen. Orie was charged in 2010 with 10 counts of theft and of criminal conspiracy-theft by diversion of services, conflict of interest, and evidence tampering.

Though Sen. Orie was tried together with her sister Janine, the trial ended in a March 2011 mistrial when the jury found that the senator had offered forged documents into evidence.

Judge Jeffrey Manning refused in April that year to bar a retrial of Sen. Orie on double jeopardy grounds, calling the situation "outrageous.

"It calls into suspicion every document that the defense offered," he added. "And it is deceitful, it is dishonest, it is despicable, and it is a crime."

Orie was subsequently charged with 16 additional criminal offenses, including perjury, forgery, tampering with or fabricating evidence, obstructing the law, and violating the Election Code.

The charges against her sister were severed from the retrial, which ended in Sen. Orie's conviction of theft by diversion of services, conspiracy, forgery, and evidence tampering. She was sentenced to 2 ½ to 10 years in prison and ordered to pay $110,650 in restitution and reimbursement for outside counsel fees that the Senate Republican Caucus paid.

The Pennsylvania Superior Court affirmed Thursday, tossing out Orie's claim that the original mistrial was unnecessary.

"Once the trial judge realized forged documents had been admitted into evidence, he could not allow those documents to enter into the jury's deliberation and verdict," Judge Paula Ott wrote for a three-judge panel (emphasis in original). "Moreover, the court did not err in making the initial factual determination that the documents were forgeries."

Orie failed to convince the court that 20 pretrial search warrants on her offices, staffers, computers, cell phone, and email account, were overbroad.

"The affidavit stated that Pavlot had received campaign-related text messages from Orie's cellular phone, and text messages with directives regarding staffers' future actions following the intern's allegations," Ott wrote. "Our review confirms that the application and affidavit of probable cause warranted a reasonable belief that the records would be relevant and material to the ongoing criminal investigation."

The panel also upheld preclusion of "irrelevant" testimony given by Stephen MacNett, chief counsel to the Senate Republican Caucus.

Emphasizing that the forged documents "were not 'immaterial,'" the court noted that they "were used to attack the credibility of the commonwealth's crucial witness, Pavlot, and were introduced and admitted in the defense case-in-chief to support Orie's defense that Pavlot had the complete authority to direct the staffers and that Pavlot acted on her own initiative and against Orie's directives that no improper political activity occur in the office."

Last year, Melvin persuaded a federal judge in Pittsburgh to unseal its record of a 2010 complaint Pavlot filed against her ex-boyfriend for allegedly giving her herpes.

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