Former chief of staff: Orie 'hands-on'

Says state senator directed political work by employees

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State Sen. Jane Orie's former chief of staff on Tuesday described her as a micro-manager who directed political work by Senate employees, approved comp time for their campaign chores and complained of the disloyalty of aides who were uncomfortable with partisan work on public time.

Jamie Pavlot, a central witness for the prosecution, took the stand after a parade of witnesses had described regular political work in the Republican's Harrisburg and district offices over nearly a decade.

Some of them testified to having received direct orders from the senator, but more often Ms. Pavlot was cited as the supervisor of the political tasks. She, like other prosecution witnesses, has received immunity for her testimony about the use of state resources.

"She was very hands-on ... liked to micro-manage," Ms. Pavlot said of Ms. Orie, who is the focus of charges including theft of services and conspiracy. "She was in control."

Ms. Pavlot echoed the testimony of earlier witnesses in describing an office where legitimate legislative work was interspersed, for some employees, with campaign activity including fundraising, door-knocking and political calls.

"The senator had people she felt were very loyal to her [performing] campaign work," she said.

Ms. Pavlot said those staffers could earn time off from their state duties with the hours they spent campaigning. The accounting of that comp time was "always run by the senator," said Ms. Pavlot, who had been Ms. Orie's chief of staff throughout her Senate tenure until nine months ago, after the investigation began, when she was stripped of that title and transferred to a satellite office rather than the main district office on McKnight Road in McCandless.

She described two separate instances in which employees had expressed unease over performing political work on public time. Describing Ms. Orie's reaction in one case, she reported that the senator had said, " 'Well, you know, I don't want her doing this anymore; she's not going to be loyal.' "

In a second case, Ms. Pavlot, apparently at her boss's direction, fired an employee who voiced discomfort over political activity.

Ms. Pavlot said that the senator "did not have a campaign committee per se," as she and the Senate staff handled those duties.

"I was directed to do that by the senator," she said.

Ms. Pavlot, whose testimony continues today, is a crucial figure in the prosecution case. One witness after another has described her as a demanding manager who conveyed the senator's political orders and made sure they were executed.

Despite Ms. Pavlot's pivotal role, the day's most melodramatic testimony came as a defense attorney suggested that another prosecution witness was eager to work on the campaign of the senator's sister, Justice Joan Orie Melvin, not because he was ordered to, but because he had an intimate relationship with Justice Melvin's daughter.

While cross-examining Joshua Dott, a former aide in the senator's North Hills office, William Costopoulos pressed him on his friendship with Casey Melvin during her mother's 2009 campaign for the Supreme Court.

"Is it fair to say that in addition to enjoying campaigning, you were ingratiating yourself with [Judge Melvin's] daughter?" he asked.

Mr. Dott, clearly uncomfortable, tried to deflect several questions asking him to characterize their ties.

"You were a lot more than just friends, you had an intimate relationship," the attorney demanded.

"Once or twice," Mr. Dott acknowledged.

The questioning was designed to undermine Mr. Dott's lengthy description of campaign work he said he was required to perform as part of his duties in the senator's North Hills district office.

Mr. Dott had said that he took orders from Ms. Pavlot and from another Orie sister, Janine Orie, as he performed work, including driving Justice Melvin to political events and maintaining her database of contributors.

The intra-office anxiety ignited by the charges, first raised by a former intern, Jennifer Rioja, was evident in a series of e-mails and text messages between Mr. Dott and colleagues, including Casey Melvin, that were shown to the jury on the screen filling one courtroom wall.

"Do you think we need to worry," Mr. Dott wrote another staffer, Kurt Acker.

"No, do not even discuss with Casey," Mr. Acker replied.

In another message to Mr. Acker, Mr. Dott wrote, "I'm so nervous, we didn't do anything wrong though."

To Casey Melvin, he texted, "I don't know, just scary, but we have nothing to hide. ... "

At another point, the Saint Vincent College political science graduate, who had described his ambitions to be a political consultant, told Assistant District Attorney Lawrence Claus that because of his involvement in the case, "I'm never going to be able to work in politics again, probably."

The charges against Jane Orie are based on allegations extending over years involving her campaigns and those of Justice Melvin. The counts against Janine Orie focus on work performed during Justice Melvin's 2009 campaign for the high court.

In a request that underscored the importance of the Pavlot testimony, Mr. Costopoulos asked Judge Jeffrey Manning's permission to play audio excerpts of her initial statements to the district attorney's office in the opening weeks of the investigation. Mr. Costopoulos said he wanted jurors "to hear the pressure she was under and the tone of her voice ... [in the] weeks after the Rioja blowup," he said.

Judge Manning raised several questions about the request, which was opposed by Mr. Claus, but said he would consider it.


Politics Editor James O'Toole: jotoole@post-gazette.com or 412-263-1562.


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