The jury hearing the retrial of State Senator Jane Orie (R-McCandless) listened to opening arguments Wednesday. Judge Jeffrey Manning outlined the 26 charges against her, which include criminal conspiracy, ethics violations, obstruction of justice and new charges that she committed perjury and submitted forged documents at her first trial last year.
Orie is accused of using state-funded staff for campaign work that benefited her and her sister, State Supreme Court Justice Joan Orie Melvin.
Allegheny County Assistant District Attorney Lawrence Claus told jurors they have mountains of evidence against Orie in the form of documents and emails, and said the senator actively took part in fabricating, destroying, and removing official evidence as part of a cover up of known illegal activity.
But Orie's attorney, William Costopoulos, called the evidence an optical illusion and said that while there is a lot of it, it amounts to a lot of nothing. He said there is no concrete evidence that directly links Senator Orie to the forgeries.
Orie's first trial ended in a mistrial during jury deliberations when the judge ruled that a defense document had been forged. Costopoulos said they're not denying the documents were forged, but stated that Orie had nothing to do with the forgeries. He said they came from someone either trying to do her harm or trying to help her in a misguided way.
The first witness to be called to the stand was Jennifer Rioja, the unpaid intern whose phone call led to the investigation into Orie. She and former Orie Chief of Staff Jamie Pavlot testified against the Senator in the first trial. Costopoulos said the only thing Orie is guilty of is placing trust in the wrong person: Pavlot.
Judge Manning said the trial is expected to last up to three weeks.
Justice Joan Orie Melvin has not been charged. A third sister, Janine Orie, faces charges in a separate trail. Janine Orie is said to have orchestrated much of the staff movements during the time in question.