Orie sent to prison

Former state senator handed 21/2-10 years for corruption conviction



In the end, there was no high drama. No complaints of political motivation or vindictiveness.

Instead, former state Sen. Jane Orie stood in her steel blue pantsuit, with her electronic monitor just visible on her right ankle above her black patent leather pumps, and chose to say nothing.

The only visible reaction as Judge Jeffrey A. Manning ordered her to state prison for 21/2 to 10 years on public corruption charges, were tears in her eyes as she was led away by Allegheny County sheriff's deputies.

As one deputy opened his handcuffs to place on her wrists, the judge waved him off, instead telling him to allow her to walk freely to the holding cell.

That show of compassion, though, did not stop Judge Manning from ordering that the 50-year-old McCandless woman immediately be taken into custody Monday instead of allowing her to self-report as her attorney, William Costopoulos, had requested.

Judge Manning minced no words in characterizing Orie's submission of fraudulent documents to the court during her first trial.

"There cannot be a more flagrant and disgraceful violation" of the attorney's oath, he said.

"You stand convicted of crimes that demean the sanctity of all we do as lawyers," Judge Manning continued. "The sin is overborne by the deflection. The crime overshadowed by the cover-up."

Convicted in March on 14 counts, including five felonies, Orie was initially charged only with using her legislative staff to do campaign work for her and sister Joan Orie Melvin, a state Supreme Court justice, who last month also was charged.

However, Orie's first trial ended during the first full day of jury deliberations when the prosecution accused her of submitting fraudulent documents to the court.

Assistant District Attorney Lawrence Claus, in his argument on sentencing, told the judge that the cover-up was worse than the crime.

"The defendant literally tried to weasel her way out of it with what eventually led to the second set of charges," he said. "It shows a violation of everything this court stands for."

Judge Manning agreed.

He called the day of the Orie mistrial, March 3, 2011, "the most disturbing and disheartening" in his 24 years on the bench.

The act of a lawyer submitting fraudulent exhibits, he said, is the "ultimate lawyer's transgression."

Judge Manning acknowledged Orie's decades of public service and her accomplishments.

"But we do not earn credits in life for the good we do to weigh against our misdeeds," he said. "That might well be of value on the final day of judgment, but in this life, we must penalize the wrongdoer to set the standard of conduct for the rest of us."

Mr. Costopoulos said following the hearing that he will appeal the conviction, and top among his issues will be the idea that the office of Allegheny County District Attorney Stephen A. Zappala Jr. was the entity to prosecute the case.

Orie has contended from the beginning that she was being targeted because of various disagreements on legislative and judicial issues with the Zappala family.

Mr. Zappala did not make any comment following the hearing.

Mr. Costopoulos said he will also challenge whether Judge Manning should have remained as the trial judge in the second case, given his knowledge of what happened in the first.

The amount of money Orie will be required to pay is still up for debate.

Rather than having a hearing on restitution for legal fees to the state or penalties for personal pecuniary gain, attorneys on both sides Monday agreed to submit briefs on the matter, as well as affidavits from the individual witnesses.

Judge Manning said he will issue a decision within 30 days.

The prosecution is seeking about $2 million from the senator. Mr. Costopoulos has called those efforts mean-spirited and unprecedented.

In a surprise move, the defense chose not to call any witnesses at the sentencing hearing Monday, nor did the prosecution.

Instead, the case, which has stretched on for more than two years, ended with only about 40 minutes of argument.

Mr. Costopoulos cited nearly 100 letters submitted to the court on Orie's behalf, including some written by law enforcement officers and clergy members.

"These letters were written after she was convicted," he said. "Nevertheless, they continue to believe in her, in her life's work."

Mr. Costopoulos urged Judge Manning to give his client house arrest -- for as many years as he'd like -- so she could remain in her home caring for her elderly father.

He told Judge Manning that he believed Orie had been punished enough -- she has lost her pension, lost her license to practice law and, worst of all, he said, lost her reputation.

"That's all she really cares about," Mr. Costopoulos said. "No matter what you do, it's gone. It's done. It's finished. It's brought great pain and enormous anguish to the entire family."

When asked why Orie chose not to comment at sentencing, Mr. Costopoulos said there was no point.

"What was she supposed to do? Throw herself down and accept responsibility after she had testified to what I believe were her truths?" he said. "That issue of remorse is sometimes overstated. She did not take issue with anything that was done today. She simply paid her respects to the court and accepted her sentence. What more do we want from people? To make them cry uncle publicly is more than I find acceptable."

But Mr. Claus, in his argument to Judge Manning, called out that behavior.

"The defendant has consistently throughout the trial showed a total lack of remorse."

He reiterated what he said during the trial that there were "two faces of Jane Orie."

The person known as a diligent senator by her constituents, and the one who was known as a tough taskmaster to her employees.

Mr. Claus accused her of providing "blatant misrepresentation" to the probation officer who prepared her pre-sentence report when she said she had no knowledge of her campaign work being done by her staff on state time.

"It's just impossible to comprehend," he said.

Orie will remain at the Allegheny County Jail until the sheriff's office transports her to the State Correctional Institution Muncy in Lycoming County.

There she will undergo assessment and evaluation before being designated to either stay in that facility or be transported to the women's prison at Cambridge Springs in Crawford County.

Presuming she is assigned to the general population, according to the state Department of Corrections, Orie's days will begin at 6 a.m.

She will likely be assigned a job, for example, in the prison laundry, on the janitorial staff or with maintenance.

Based on her educational background, spokeswoman Susan McNaughton said, Orie could become an inmate peer tutor.

"We try to give everybody a job that can work," she said. "There are certainly a lot of different things she could do."

Orie will qualify for what is called the Recidivism Risk Reduction Incentive, which allows nonviolent offenders a potential break on their minimum sentence if they meet all of their programming goals in prison.

In Orie's case, that would drop the minimum period of time in prison for her to 221/2 months.

electionspa - state

Paula Reed Ward: pward@post-gazette.com or 412-263-2620. First Published June 5, 2012 4:00 AM


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