Orie's attorney argues warrants were too broad

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HARRISBURG -- Prosecutors acted too broadly, and even unconstitutionally, in seizing computers, office equipment and servers in the case of convicted former state Sen. Jane Orie, her attorney said Tuesday in an appeal before the state's Superior Court.

The seizures amounted to prosecutorial overreach, and violated the separation of power between the equal branches of government, he said.

"They didn't have to do it that way," said attorney William Costopoulos, speaking in a Harrisburg courtroom.

Prosecutors could have simply subpoenaed the Senate Republican Caucus for the computers and documents needed, rather than seizing them, he said.

Orie is due to be released from prison at the State Correctional Facility Cambridge Springs on Feb. 9.

Following her second trial on corruption charges, the former Senate majority whip was found guilty in March 2012 of theft of services and conspiracy. Her legislative staff, the jury said, did campaign work for her sister, former state Supreme Court Justice Joan Orie Melvin.

Jane Orie was also convicted of forgery and tampering with evidence in relation to her first corruption trial, which ended in a mistrial after evidence of the forgery was revealed.

Michael Streily, deputy district attorney for Allegheny County, rebutted Mr. Costopoulos' arguments.

"There is nothing wrong with executing search warrants on the offices of legislators when they are engaged in criminal activity," he said.

"Do we suspend process when we're dealing with judges or a legislator?" he asked the three-judge panel rhetorically.

Just because documents and servers were seized, that doesn't mean prosecutors over-reached, he said, adding that any evidence of criminal activity can be seized, down to note pads used by office secretaries.

Though Orie will soon be released from prison, that doesn't render the issues behind her appeal moot, Mr. Costopoulos said.

"This case is bigger than Jane Orie," he told the court.

He said he doesn't foresee the court ruling before her release. He added that he speaks to Orie weekly, and that she has used her time in prison to help underprivileged inmates earn their GEDs. After her release, she hopes to continue community service, possibly in a volunteer capacity, he said.

"She has not been destroyed by this experience," he said. "She's not coming out bitter, she's not coming out with an attitude."

Kate Giammarise: kgiammarise@post-gazette.com or 717-787-4254. Twitter: @KateGiammarise. First Published December 10, 2013 2:22 PM

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