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More former Orie staffers say they did political work on state time

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Saturday, Feb. 12, 2011

Five former staffers for state Sen. Jane Orie filed into a Downtown courtroom Friday, and all told the jury a similar story about mixing political and legislative work at the direction of their demanding boss.

North Hills staffer Jason Davidek said he drove the senator's sister, Joan Orie Melvin, on 20 trips around the state — on the taxpayer's dime — as she campaigned for the Supreme Court in 2003.

Orie's Harrisburg secretary, Ginger Hope, organized fundraisers. Barbara Brown, a Harrisburg aide, devoted at least 30 percent of her workday to political chores, she testified.

"I did what I was asked to do," Brown said. "I needed my job."

Jurors scribbled notes as they listened to the second day of testimony in the corruption trial of Orie, the former Republican whip, and her sister, Janine Orie, both of McCandless.

District Attorney Stephen A. Zappala Jr. accused Jane Orie, 49, in April of using her state-paid legislative staff to conduct campaign work for her and Melvin. Janine Orie, 56, worked for Melvin, 54, of Marshall, who has not been charged. Jane Orie is charged with theft and conflict of interest. Janine Orie faces charges of conspiracy and diversion of resources.

"The strategy, obviously, is that the prosecution wants to show this is a clear pattern. They want to be able to say, 'Look how many times this happened. This was a course of conduct over several years,'" said University of Pittsburgh law professor John Burkoff, who is following the case.

"The defense strategy is that these were minor events, or they were done on comp time because these people had an interest in the political future of the Orie sisters. There's two different narratives being spun. The question is, which one will be more convincing?"

Orie's attorney, William Costopoulos, spent much of the day poking holes in the witnesses' statements and confronting them with documentation about comp time and questions over their departures from Orie's office. Orie fired two of them.

Costopoulos showed Davidek a check for $300 to him from Melvin's campaign for his driving services along with an e-mail from Jane Orie to her then-Chief of Staff Jamie Pavlot directing that Davidek's work with Melvin should be done on comp time, free time or paid by the Melvin campaign.

"Isn't it true you wanted to (drive Melvin) and took vacation time?" Costopoulos asked.

"I don't recall saying that," said Davidek, who worked for Orie from May 2002 until January 2004 as a legislative aide until he was fired. He said his relationship with the senator had become strained.

Davidek said he drove Melvin on campaign trips to Philadelphia, Reading, State College, Wilkes-Barre and Harrisburg.

Costopoulos contended that Davidek took Melvin on three trips, not 20 as he claimed.

Costopoulos also attempted to damage the credibility of the Harrisburg staffers. He questioned Brown over a money dispute involving Orie's "Hearts of Steel" bracelet campaign, which raised more than $1 million for a permanent Flight 93 memorial in Shanksville, in honor of those who died in the 9/11 terrorist attacks.

Brown said money she paid into the Hearts of Steel account was for bracelets her husband sold, and that she never took any money from the charity.




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