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Habay case didn't deter Orie work, staffers say

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Wednesday, Feb. 16, 2011

A North Hills state representative's conviction and sentence to jail for using state resources for political campaigns didn't deter staffers of Sen. Jane Orie from doing similar tasks, a former Orie staffer testified Tuesday.

"I got more nervous after (Rep. Jeff) Habay got criminally convicted, but it did not stop the fact that (political work on state time) continued to occur," Joseph Smith told the Allegheny County jury hearing the criminal case against Orie, a McCandless Republican, on corruption charges.

"Habay was well known to the office. I know (former Chief of Staff) Jamie (Pavlot), and I talked about trying to be more careful about these activities," Smith said.

Habay, a Shaler Republican and former six-term lawmaker, was first mentioned on the fourth day of testimony in the case against Orie, who prosecutors accuse of using her taxpayer-funded staff to work on her reelection campaigns as well as that of her sister, Supreme Court Justice Joan Orie Melvin. Janine Orie, who worked for Melvin, also is charged.

A jury in December 2005 convicted Habay of conflict of interest. In April 2007, Habay pleaded no contest to 21 counts, including theft of services and violations of the state Ethics Act.

Smith, who worked for Orie from 2002 to 2006, said he wrote fundraiser invitations, compiled lists of donors and did other political chores on Senate computers on orders from Pavlot and Jane Orie. He said he drove Melvin to events in Johnstown and Lancaster.

University of Pittsburgh law professor John Burkoff, who is following the case, said prosecutors want to mention Habay to show that Orie should have been on notice.

"If the jurors get the idea this has happened before -- with Habay -- then other (legislators) should be aware you can't do this," Burkoff said. "Habay might well be significant in this case."

Orie's attorney will cross-examine Smith today.

District Attorney Stephen A. Zappala Jr. charged Janine and Jane Orie, the former majority whip, in April. Jane Orie, 49, faces 10 felony charges, including theft and conflict of interest. Janine Orie, 56, faces two charges. Melvin, 54, was not charged.

Smith was one of four former staffers who testified they were ordered to mix campaign chores with legislative business -- mostly at the direction of Pavlot, who is expected to take the stand Thursday. Prosecutors granted her immunity from criminal prosecution.

Manning dismissed Juror No. 4, a woman, because he said she fell asleep several times. He replaced her with an alternate juror, who is a woman.




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