State Superior Court dismisses Orie appeal

Judges call senator's 'double jeopardy' assertion frivolous

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The Pennsylvania Superior Court on Wednesday said the appeal filed by state Sen. Jane Orie challenging her retrial on public corruption charges as double jeopardy is frivolous.

In a 22-page opinion that extensively cites Allegheny County Common Pleas Judge Jeffrey A. Manning's original opinion on the case, the court found that it was Ms. Orie, R-McCandless, who was responsible for a mistrial in the original case.

The senator was charged, along with her sister, Janine Orie, of using her legislative staff and resources to campaign for herself and another sister, now Supreme Court Judge Joan Orie Melvin. Justice Melvin has not been charged.

The case against the senator and Janine Orie went to trial in February but ended with a mistrial on March 3, when the prosecution presented evidence that the defense had submitted doctored documents as part of its case.

The jury was in its first full day of deliberations when the forged documents were discovered.

At a hearing on the issue that day, Assistant District Attorney Lawrence Claus asked Judge Manning to talk to the jurors and instruct them to compare the two documents and to tell them that they could consider them as "evidence of guilty knowledge."

Jane Orie's defense attorney, William Costopoulos, objected and first said he wanted a mistrial. He later changed his mind, saying that a mistrial and subsequent retrial would constitute a double jeopardy violation.

Judge Manning disagreed, saying barring a retrial would reward the senator for engaging in conduct that caused the mistrial. The appeal also challenged whether the mistrial should have been granted in the first place.

The appeals court agreed.

It found that the senator failed to offer any viable alternative to a mistrial. Further, the three-judge panel wrote: "[The] record supports the court's determination that [Ms. Orie] was responsible for the mistrial, and she cannot place liability for the mistrial on either the court or the commonwealth."

In their opinion, Superior Court Judges Susan Peikes Gantman, Anne E. Lazarus and Sallie Updyke Mundy wrote that the defense held the forged documents "for months, until the latest possible moment at trial," before providing them to the prosecution, and that Ms. Orie authenticated the evidence at trial "in a manner that was indeed critical to her defense."

Mr. Costopoulos said he could not comment on the court's decision because of a gag order issued in the case.

A retrial on the charges is scheduled before Judge Manning for Oct. 3.

On Monday, the district attorney's office filed 16 additional counts against the senator, stemming from the first trial. Those charges include perjury, forgery, tampering with evidence and obstruction.

A preliminary hearing is scheduled on the new case for Wednesday.


Paula Reed Ward: pward@post-gazette.com or 412-263-2620.


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