Orie sisters to be tried separately, judge rules

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Saying he wasn't pleased by his own decision, the judge presiding over the criminal case against the Orie sisters on Tuesday ordered that the two women be tried separately.

Judge Jeffrey A. Manning previously held that state Sen. Jane C. Orie, R-McCandless, and her sister, Janine Orie, should be tried together on charges that they used the senator's legislative staff to campaign for another sister, now state Supreme Court Justice Joan Orie Melvin.

But during a pretrial hearing on Tuesday, Judge Manning said that he believed additional charges filed against Jane Orie in August for perjury and forgery coming out of the first trial last year would be prejudicial.

"I don't want to do this three times," the judge said. But, he continued, "I'm concerned I'm doing a disservice to both defendants by keeping these cases joined."

The defense attorney for Janine Orie, who also had additional charges filed against her in December, has made repeated motions for severance, and has said his client was only charged as a "patsy" to sit with the senator.

After the hearing, Janine Orie's attorney, James DePasquale, praised the judge's decision.

"I've always thought it would be better for my client to be severed -- from Day 1," he said. "Better late than never."

Evidence against Jane Orie for the alleged perjury and forgery, Mr. DePasquale said, would have been difficult to overcome.

"You never want your client sitting there with someone else."

Jane Orie's defense attorney, William Costopoulos, said he appreciated Mr. DePasquale's assistance in his client's case.

"I'm going to miss him," he said. "But he's doing what he can on her behalf."

Later in the day, Mr. Costopoulos appeared before Judge Joseph M. James, who supervises the grand jury, on a motion asking for the appointment of a special prosecutor to investigate a possible leak from the panel.

Mr. Costopoulos claims that local media reports that Justice Melvin had received a target letter from the grand jury in December must have come from the prosecution.

Assistant District Attorney Lawrence Claus denied the allegation.

The prosecutor went even further, entering into evidence an email to a spokesman for the district attorney's office from an Associated Press reporter.

In that email asking for comment, the reporter said Mr. DePasquale had confirmed Justice Melvin received both a target letter and a subpoena.

From the outset of the hearing, though, Judge James seemed to have made up his mind, saying the story Mr. Costopoulos used in his motion had no attribution in it and was not corroborated by the prosecution.

"There is no justification for the appointment of a special prosecutor," the judge said. "Under the status of this record, I don't see that there is a leak."

Furthermore, he said he did not believe Mr. Costopoulos could show how a grand jury leak would harm Jane Orie anyway.

Justice Melvin has not been charged.

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


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