Judge places blame on Orie
State Sen. Jane Orie is responsible for introducing the forged documents that caused her mistrial, and there's no evidence Allegheny County prosecutors had anything to do with it, a judge ruled on Thursday.
In an eight-page opinion, Common Pleas Judge Jeffrey A. Manning put the blame for the doctored documents on Orie and said any appeal on double jeopardy grounds should be thrown out.
"There is no need for the commonwealth to present evidence to refute something for which there is no evidence -- namely, that the three forged documents were altered by the prosecution. This court has already found as a fact that the documents were offered in their altered state by the defendant," the judge wrote.
Manning denied a request from prosecutors to conduct a hearing to prove they didn't forge the documents.
Orie's attorney, William Costopoulos, did not return a call for comment. Mike Manko, spokesman for District Attorney Stephen A. Zappala Jr., declined to comment.
During the highly publicized trial, prosecutors blamed the forgeries on Orie's defense team. Orie's brother, attorney Jack Orie, later blamed prosecutors.
Orie, 49, a McCandless Republican, and her sister Janine Orie, 56, also of McCandless, are accused of ordering the senator's staff to perform political work on state time. Janine Orie worked as an aide to state Supreme Court Justice Joan Orie Melvin, another sister. Melvin is not charged with wrongdoing.
Manning declared a mistrial in March after ruling two defense exhibits appeared to be forged. A retrial is scheduled for October.
"He said the documents were forged all along. He doesn't want to get involved in the back and forth. The judge has said they can't take advantage of (the mistrial), end of story," said University of Pittsburgh law professor John Burkoff, who has been following the Orie case.
Janine Orie's attorney, James DePasquale, said he was not surprised by the judge's ruling.
"I didn't expect him to back off from his position," DePasquale said. "We never said the prosecution did that. I never said that, and Costopoulos never said that. The only thing that remains is who did it and why they did it."
Costopoulos is seeking to block a retrial on double-jeopardy grounds. Last month, the state Supreme Court ordered the Superior Court to consider the claims. The Constitution prohibits criminal defendants from being tried twice for the same crime.
In his opinion, the judge reiterated his reasons double jeopardy would not apply.
"The mistrial was caused by the actions of the defendant in submitting documents that had been altered," Manning wrote. "Allowing a criminal defendant to benefit from engaging in conduct during a trial that results in a mistrial would be a gross miscarriage of justice."
Manning's opinion heads to the Superior Court for consideration as part of an appeal Orie filed after the mistrial.
A Secret Service report released last week that examined the documents in question said there was evidence of forgery but did not say who was responsible.
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