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Former state Sen. Orie released from state prison in Crawford County

| Sunday, Feb. 9, 2014, 7:45 a.m.
Sidney Davis | Tribune Review
Former state Sen. Jane Orie was released from SCI Cambridge Springs in Crawford County just after 6 a.m. on Sunday, February 9, 2014.
Trib Total Media
Jane Orie leaves the Allegheny County Courthouse after being convicted in March 2012.
Former State Supreme Court Justice Joan Orie Melvin (left) and her sister, Janine Orie receive an escort out of the Allegheny County Courthouse on Thursday, Feb. 21, 2013. A jury had just found Orie Melvin guilty on six of seven campaign corruption charges, and her sister guilty on all six she faced.
Then-state Sen. Jane Orie, R-McCandless, heads to court in Pittsburgh for her trial on charges of using her staff for campaign work.

Former state Sen. Jane Orie's shortened sentence ended on Sunday with her release from a state prison .

Orie, 52, of McCandless walked out of the state prison in Cambridge Springs in Crawford County a few minutes after 6 a.m. The former Senate Republican whip served about 75 percent of her sentence for using state-paid staff for campaign work and other charges.

Orie is staying with her father, Dr. John Orie of McCandless. She declined to comment through her brother-in-law, Greg Melvin, who distributed a written statement from the Orie home. A neighbor's yard had a sign reading “welcome home.”

“Today is a special day for Jane to be reunited with her family,” it read. “She wants to thank the thousands of people who sent her cards, letters and prayers.”

Orie's next move is unknown. The state Constitution bars people convicted of “infamous crimes” from holding office. The state Supreme Court has yet to rule how long her law license will be suspended, although it could include being disbarred.

“She'll have to do things to demonstrate to the court that she's been truly rehabilitated (to get her law license back),” said University of Pittsburgh law professor John Burkoff. “The court typically isn't begrudging about licensing as long as enough time has passed and she's rehabilitated.”

Going from a powerful political office to prison to legal researcher can be humbling, said former state Attorney General Ernie Preate, 73, who served 11 months in federal prison for his guilty plea to mail fraud in 1995.

“It won't be easy for Jane. You have to be humble and continue to do work in the community and help people,” said Preate, who lost his law license for five years before getting it reinstated. He runs his own Scranton firm.

“It's how you handle it. If you tell people, ‘Yeah, I did something wrong, and I'm trying to fix it,' people will give you a chance. You just have to forget about what happened and get on with your life,” Preate said.

Orie's attorney, William Costopoulos, said she has a job lined up, but he didn't know where. She worked as a prosecutor in the attorney general's office and in the Allegheny County District Attorney's Office before running for office.

She's awaiting a ruling from the Superior Court on the appeal to her conviction.

“The appeal is not moot. It's true she did the hard part of her sentence already, but should she prevail, she'd get her pension back, and she could run for office again,” Costopoulos said.

An Allegheny County jury convicted Orie of 14 charges stemming from allegations she used her taxpayer-funded staffers to help churn out political campaign victories and knowingly introduced forged documents in her first trial. Those forgeries prompted a mistrial and led to the second trial with additional charges.

Common Pleas President Judge Jeffrey A. Manning in June 2012 sentenced her to 2 12 to 10 years in prison. The McCandless Republican — labeled as inmate No. OS9360 — served about 75 percent of that minimum sentence before she was paroled under an early release program for non-violent, first-time offenders who showed good behavior. The parole board cited her motivation for success and positive behavior in granting her release.

While at SCI-Cambridge Springs, Orie — previously known to wear colorful clothing and sparkling jewelry — wore brown prison scrubs with large white D.O.C. letters on the back and sneakers. She slept in a dorm-style room with four to six bunk beds while helping other inmates with everything from math and GEDs to writing resumes.

Moving past the case could be difficult for Orie, who maintained her innocence throughout the trial and accused District Attorney Stephen A. Zappala Jr. of targeting her because of a political vendetta. Zappala has denied those allegations. His spokesman declined to comment on Orie's release.

Her sister, former state Supreme Court Justice Joan Orie Melvin, 57, of Marshall, was convicted in May of six counts for using her Superior Court staff and the legislative staff of the senator to run campaigns for Supreme Court in 2003 and 2009. That jury found another sister and Melvin's former administrative assistant, Janine Orie, 59, of McCandless guilty on six counts.

Supporters said they'd vote for Jane Orie again if given the chance.

“She was a wonderful senator and a lovely lady,” said Martha Atwell, 94, a McCandless Republican committeewoman.

Such glowing reviews didn't surprise Jerry Shuster, a professor of political communication at the University of Pittsburgh.

“A lot of her constituents felt she was a good senator who made some really dumb moves. I think were she legally able to run again, she would be very difficult to beat,” Shuster said. “She was one senator who provided good services to constituents, was in the news and was one of the more effective women in politics.”

Bobby Kerlik and Adam Brandolph are staff writers for Trib Total Media. Kerlik can be reached at 412-320-7886 or bkerlik@tribweb.com. Brandolph can be reached at 412-391-0927 or abrandolph@tribweb.com.

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