New charges filed against Janine Orie
Janine Orie, left, leaves her arraignment at Pittsburgh Municipal Court on Friday with her brother Jack Orie, center.
Share with others:
Leaning on new testimony from several current and former workers for state Supreme Court Justice Joan Orie Melvin, prosecutors filed a slew of new charges in the ongoing corruption probe against her sisters Janine, her former judicial aide, and state Sen. Jane Orie.
Detectives for Allegheny County District Attorney Stephen A. Zappala Jr. filed five new charges against Janine Orie, one of them saying she directed a judicial staffer to destroy campaign computer files before they could be seized by investigators in late 2009.
A grand jury report also includes claims from court workers for Justice Melvin that they have been doing political work for her on state time over two decades in office. No charges were filed against the Supreme Court justice, and a spokesman for Mr. Zappala would not comment on whether any were forthcoming.
Dressed in a red jacket and black skirt, Janine Orie said just one sentence following her arraignment before Magisterial District Court Judge Nancy Longo: "My faith will get me through this."
Her brother, Jack Orie, used slightly stronger words to describe the new charges. "My family is quite disappointed in the amoral district attorney for filing charges with no merit against my sister Janine."
Janine Orie was released Friday night on her own recognizance and is due to appear in court again on Tuesday.
The 29-page grand jury presentment released Friday contains loads of new material claiming Janine Orie -- while an aide to then Superior Court Justice Melvin -- played a key role in working on her sister's successful 2009 Supreme Court run. Her sister Jane, a Republican state senator from McCandless, has been charged with doing similar work in her state office.
The presentment said Janine Orie worked on the 2009 campaign and another in 2003 in court offices; directed other court workers to campaign, sometimes under orders from her two sisters; and when investigators began looking into the work, directed another aide to copy and then destroy campaign-related files on the court computer network.
Prosecutors charged Janine Orie, 57, with a felony count of theft of services for the political work from 2003 through January 2010, and four misdemeanor counts including of misapplication of entrusted property, tampering with evidence and criminal solicitation (for ordering the computer files destroyed).
The last trial of Jane and Janine Orie in March ended in mistrial and the Allegheny County district attorney's office is set to try them again in February. Since the mistrial prosecutors have filed additional charges against the senator regarding forgery and perjury, after documents with questionable signatures were entered into the record in the last trial.
A pretrial conference before Common Pleas Judge Jeffrey A. Manning is set for Tuesday. Neither attorneys for Janine Orie nor Justice Melvin could be reached for comment.
The latest filing from the Allegheny County investigating jury is filled with new material implicating the sisters.
It includes claims from Justice Melvin's current secretary at the state Supreme Court, Kathy Squires, that she had participated in illegal political work at court offices during 13 years of working for her.
That included picking up copies of campaign checks, entering campaign data into judicial computers and issuing thank-you letters to contributors, efforts she said she spent an average of three hours per day working on.
That work was given to other staffers by the 2009 campaign, the grand jury presentment says. But when investigators began circling in late 2009 after Justice Melvin was elected to the Supreme Court, Janine Orie left Ms. Squires a note directing her to delete campaign files from the judicial computers.
Lisa Sasinoski was a former clerk to Justice Melvin going back to her years on the Allegheny County Common Pleas bench, through her unsuccessful run for Supreme Court in 2003. Ms. Sasinoski claimed political work -- much of it directed by Janine Orie -- happened in Ms. Melvin's courtrooms from 1991 to 2003.
"Sasinoski testified that during their time as a law clerk with Orie Melvin, she was directed by Janine Orie to do a myriad of political tasks for Orie Melvin. These tasks included: writing political speeches; filling out campaign questionnaires in furtherance of obtaining endorsements from political action committees; traveling with Orie Melvin; and attending political functions with the judge during the 2003 campaign year," the presentment said.
The tasks were either directed by Janine Orie or the judge herself, the presentment said.
The judge -- according to the presentment -- had Ms. Sasinoski research opinions to help her win endorsements, and the judge would call Republican committee people statewide while at the office. She also testified that Jane Orie would order court employees to work for her sister at polling places.
Ms. Sasinoski complained about the political work in the office after the 2003 election, and two days later she was fired. She is married to Common Pleas Judge Kevin Sasinoski.
John Degener, Ms. Melvin's current chief law clerk at the Supreme Court, told the grand jury Janine Orie directed him to do political work for her sister in 2003, and she directed him to transfer campaign-related files off the judicial computer network in 2005 or 2006.
First Published December 17, 2011 12:00 am