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Orie officially resigns seat in Pennsylvania Senate

| Monday, May 21, 2012, 8:58 a.m.
Trib Total Media
Jane Orie leaves the Allegheny County Courthouse after being convicted in March 2012.

HARRISBURG -- Jane Orie, once the highest-ranking woman in state government, on Monday resigned her $82,026-a-year Senate seat in advance of sentencing on 14 criminal charges.

The resignation for the McCandless Republican, who represented her North Hills district for 11 years, occurred three days after Allegheny County's district attorney charged her sister, Supreme Court Justice Joan Orie Melvin, with similar crimes of using public resources for campaigns.

The court suspended Melvin, 56, a Marshall Republican, who maintains her innocence. She faces a preliminary hearing Friday.

"She had a great career in the Senate. She was passionate on all the issues she fought for. I know Jane and respect her," said Senate President Pro Tempore Joe Scarnati, R-Jefferson County. "Blurring political activity and Senate work has been an issue. Keeping campaigning out of these offices has been a goal of ours."

Lt. Gov. James Cawley has 10 days to call a special election for Orie's seat. The election can occur 60 days after his announcement, or as late as the Nov. 6 general election, said Erik Arneson, a spokesman for Senate Republicans. A reapportionment plan would move Orie's district to eastern Pennsylvania. Chad Saylor, a spokesman for Cawley, declined comment.

Orie, 50, a former sex crimes prosecutor in the Allegheny County District Attorney's Office and ex-deputy attorney general, crafted an image as a reformer, especially targeting the state Gaming Control Board.

"I feel for her and her family and certainly wish her the best," said Rep. Mike Vereb, R-Montgomery County, who worked with Orie on gambling issues. "I feel horrible for what she's gone through. She was a pillar of reform up here."

As a former majority whip, Orie was in the top rung of Senate leadership. A House member from 1996-2000, she became a senator after a March 2001 special election.

Orie likely will lose a pension that would be based on 16 years of legislative service, though the state pension board does not provide monthly amounts until after a member starts receiving them. Some crimes for which she was convicted, including theft, forgery and tampering with evidence, are among 20 that state law specifies for automatic pension revocation.

Common Pleas Judge Jeffrey A. Manning will sentence Orie on June 4. An Allegheny County jury in March convicted her of using state staff members for political work and introducing forged documents at trial.

Orie's sentencing initially was scheduled for yesterday. Her attorney, William Costopoulos, sought a delay and promised she would resign. She remains under house arrest.

Though a vacancy exists in the District 40 office, it will remain open so that constituents can seek services, said Arneson. He said Senate leaders had not decided how many people to keep on staff in the district and Harrisburg offices.

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