Local
6:52 pm
Thu March 22, 2012

Closing Arguments Complete in Corruption Trial of Senator Jane Orie

More than two weeks ago when the trial began, Defense Attorney William Costopoulos argued that the evidence against Senator Jane Orie (R-McCandless) was an optical illusion. Throughout the trial, he has accused the prosecution of mounting a so-called shotgun approach, meaning they charged Orie with multiple counts in hopes that at least one would stick.

In closing arguments Thursday, prosecutors tried to punch holes in that assertion and said all of the charges relate to actual criminal activity. Allegheny County Assistant District Attorney Lawrence Claus called the actions by Orie and her staff "public corruption at its worst."

Not Orie's Fault

Costopoulos said Orie is only guilty of trusting the wrong person. He contends all illegal campaign activity happened under the direction of former chief of staff Jamie Pavlot. Pavlot was granted immunity and testified against the senator. Costopoulos said the former aide is simply covering her tracks and called the campaign work a situation of "when the cat's away, the mice will play," arguing Orie never would have allowed the actions to take place during regular working hours, when staff was supposed to be doing "the people's work."

Orie is being retried on charges she illegally used her Senate office staff to do campaign work that benefited her and her sister, state Supreme Court Justice Joan Orie Melvin, who is not charged. The senator is also charged with lying under oath and falsifying defense documents that prompted a mistrial last March.

Careless Forgeries

Orie's attorney said she was not the one responsible for the forgeries. Costopoulos contends Orie wouldn't have clumsily forged documents to cover up illegal work because she'd know better thanks to her background as a prosecutor. He chalked up the lying under oath charges as a case of the senator being under intense stress on the stand, and misspeaking.

Prosecutor Lawrence Claus told jurors that even if Orie didn't forge the documents herself, she still submitted them as evidence, though, he added, anyone can clearly tell there are problems with their validity.

She had to know

Claus rejected the claim that Orie knew nothing about the campaign work being done, and pointed to 24 witnesses who either did the work during office hours, or witnessed the work being done, sometimes when Orie herself was present in the office. On the table holding the defense and prosecution exhibits are binders filled with documents, including e-mails and text message printouts, from the Senator to Pavlot and other members of her staff that seem to point to her knowledge of campaign activities. There are also documents from Orie that direct staff to make sure all campaign work is done outside of official senate office hours – though Pavlot claimed to never have seen some of them. Prosecutors allege Orie worked to cover up illegal activity after complaints were filed and an investigation began.

The jury will remain sequestered in a downtown hotel until it returns a verdict.