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Staffers made calls as Orie, ex-aide testifies

A former staffer for state Sen. Jane Orie told a jury on Monday that she and others pretended to be the senator when making political calls during work hours.

Christine Bahr, who retired from Orie's staff in 2005, testified that former chief of staff Jamie Pavlot directed some staffers to make the calls during the workday on the senator's behalf.

"We were to be the senator when we were making the calls," Bahr testified during the fifth day of Orie's corruption retrial. "It would be as if I were making calls to you, I would (pretend) to be the senator."

Orie, 50, a McCandless Republican, is accused of ordering her state-paid staff to do political work on state time and expense for her and her sister, Supreme Court Justice Joan Orie Melvin. Bahr was one of four former staffers who testified yesterday that they did political work at the request of Pavlot or Orie.

Pavlot, who struck an immunity deal with prosecutors, testified last week that Orie issued all campaign work orders.

"The prosecution wants to show this was a consistent pattern, that it wasn't all Jamie Pavlot," said University of Pittsburgh law professor David Harris, who is following the case. "She has an immunity deal, so her credibility will be an issue. (They want to show) this isn't just about the credibility of Jamie, that you can't simply dismiss these allegations as the actions of one self-interested witness."

Former staffers Dan Soltesz, Sharon Cochran and Michelle Thomas testified they also did political work on state time. Thomas, an administrative assistant in Orie's Harrisburg office, said that once, when a copier became jammed while staffers were making copies of political material, Orie instructed them not to call Senate computer services.

"We all pulled together and fixed it," Thomas said. She, Soltesz and Cochran described Orie as a difficult and controlling boss.

Bahr testified during the first trial, which ended in mistrial last March. Yesterday, Bahr portrayed the senator as a micro-manager. She said she liked Orie but didn't dare complain about politicking on state time. She estimated that some days, she spent up to half of her day doing political work.

"I feared I would lose my job and, as much as I liked the senator, I knew it wouldn't take much and I'd be out the door," Bahr said. "She had a temper, and it would flare. I didn't want to get into it."

Orie faces 26 charges stemming from two cases. Common Pleas Judge Jeffrey A. Manning declared a mistrial last year after finding the defense introduced forged documents as evidence. Prosecutors added charges of forgery and perjury, accusing the senator of forging documents. She has denied all charges.

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