Tensions rise at Orie hearing

Pre-trial motions argue prosecutor should step aside

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Animosity between Jane Orie and the Allegheny County district attorney's office played itself out in court Tuesday as the state senator's previous defense attorney took the stand to testify in support of a motion to have the prosecutor removed from the case.

Jerry McDevitt, who represented Ms. Orie, R-McCandless, through the investigative stage of the case, was on the stand for about an hour, describing what he thought was a flawed process used by the district attorney's office in serving search warrants at the senator's district office last December.

However, it wasn't until cross-examination by Assistant District Attorney Lawrence Claus that tensions in the courtroom rose.

Throughout his testimony, Mr. McDevitt repeatedly raised concerns that he filed a number of motions on Ms. Orie's behalf before she was charged -- including on the search warrant and a conflict of interest with the district attorney's office -- but that prosecutors failed to answer them.

"What happened with those?" Mr. Claus asked.

"Absolutely nothing," Mr. McDevitt responded.

"Could that have been because they were meritless?" Mr. Claus continued.

"No," Mr. McDevitt answered. "You never wanted to come in and join the fight. You buried them. You didn't want to litigate them. You never responded to anything."

Eventually, he continued, Allegheny County Common Pleas Judge John A. Zottola, who at the time was supervising the grand jury, issued a one-sentence order denying all of Ms. Orie's motions.

Current defense attorney William Costopoulos has filed a number of similar motions that are now going to be decided by Judge Jeffrey A. Manning.

A hearing on the outstanding motions began Monday and is expected to conclude today.

Judge Manning has scheduled the trial of both Ms. Orie and her sister, Janine, for February.

They are charged with using Ms. Orie's legislative staff and resources to help run the campaign of another sister, state Supreme Court Justice Joan Orie Melvin.

Jane Orie is charged with three counts each of conflict of interest, theft of services and tampering with evidence and one count of criminal conspiracy. Janine Orie is charged with conspiracy and one count of theft of services.

Also testifying on Tuesday was former Allegheny County executive and current county Republican committee chairman Jim Roddey.

He was called by Mr. Costopoulos as part of the defense challenge to the district attorney's request to bring in a jury to hear the case from outside of Allegheny County.

In a motion filed last week, Mr. Claus wrote that he believed the pre-trial publicity in the case, and Ms. Orie's actions in painting the charges against her as personal, make it unlikely that an impartial jury could be found in Allegheny County.

The defense, however, believes that is untrue.

Mr. Roddey, on the stand briefly, testified that Ms. Orie's senatorial district only covers 18 of the county's 130 municipalities.

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


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