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Orie's appeal rejected

| Thursday, Sept. 1, 2011

A state appeals court rejected state Sen. Jane Orie's claim that she cannot be retried on corruption charges, ruling on Wednesday that she was responsible for her case ending in a mistrial.

The three-judge Superior Court panel affirmed Allegheny County Common Pleas Judge Jeffrey A. Manning's decision to declare a mistrial on March 3 after the discovery of doctored documents. The court's 22-page opinion stopped short of saying the forgeries came from Orie's hand, but said the documents were introduced as evidence critical to Orie's defense.

Orie "authenticated and submitted the doctored evidence at trial in a manner that was indeed critical to her defense," the opinion states. "The record supports the court's determination that (Orie) was responsible for the mistrial and she cannot place liability for the mistrial on either the court or (prosecutors)."

The ruling comes two days after District Attorney Stephen A. Zappala Jr. charged the McCandless Republican with 16 new criminal counts, including forgery and perjury, related to the doctored documents. Her preliminary hearing on the new charges is scheduled for next week.

Zappala spokesman Mike Manko declined to comment yesterday. Orie's retrial is scheduled for October. Orie's brother, Jack Orie, has said prosecutors forged the documents.

The original case accuses Orie, 49, and her sister Janine Orie, 57, also of McCandless, 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.

Orie's attorney, William C. Costopoulos, has argued in court filings that a retrial would constitute double jeopardy. He did not return a call for comment yesterday, but earlier this week he called the new charges "suspicious" and a maneuver "brought to influence the appellate process."

University of Pittsburgh law professor David Harris said Orie could appeal the ruling to the state Supreme Court but with every level of appeal, success becomes less achievable.

"Each time the original judgment is affirmed, the odds become less likely," Harris said.

Harris said even though Orie has not been convicted of forgery, the fact remains that those documents, introduced by her attorney, caused the mistrial.

"That's all that has to be determined -- the incident that prompted the mistrial happened at the hands of the defense," Harris said. "If the prosecution had set a trap, that's different. But there's no evidence that anyone other than the defense had anything to do with presenting (the documents) to the court."

Janine Orie's attorney, James DePasquale, filed two requests with Manning yesterday, including asking that her retrial be separate from her sister's.

"Janine Mary Orie did not testify, did not introduce any disputed exhibit, did not inquire about any of the disputed exhibits, and did not argue as to any of the disputed exhibits," DePasquale wrote.

He said the new charges are related to the senator and would create an unfair trial for Janine Orie. He also filed his opposition to prosecutors' attempt to use the new evidence in the retrial and said it was a "weak attempt" by prosecutors to keep the cases joined.

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