Orie case goes to jury
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The criminal case against state Sen. Jane Orie has gone to the jury.
The jury deliberated for a little more than four hours this afternoon before retiring for the evening. Jurors will be sequestered until a verdict is reached.
During closing arguments this morning, Ms. Orie's defense attorney described the prosecution's strategy as "a shotgun approach."
"It's a form of strategy," William Costopoulos said. "A very low form used when a case is weak."
Ms. Orie, a 12-year Republican senator from McCandless, is on trial on 24 counts, including theft of services for using her legislative staff to campaign. Her other charges include ethics violations, conspiracy, obstruction of justice, perjury and forgery.
The two dozen charges, the defense contends, were layered on top of each other to ensure that the woman gets convicted of something.
He characterized the prosecution's evidence as "de minimis."
"In layman's terms, it means petty," he said. "And they had to try to make it not petty. Four freaking elections in nine years, where there's nothing but petitions, yard signs and stuffing envelopes."
Throughout his 90-minute closing, Mr. Costopoulos told the seven women and five men of the jury that his client was unaware of the political work being done in the senator's North Hills district office.
"When the cat's away, the mice will play," he repeated.
He placed the blame for any campaign work being done on Ms. Orie's former chief of staff, Jamie Pavlot, who received immunity from prosecution.
"Jamie Pavlot hired and fired staffers," Mr. Costopoulos said. "Jamie Pavlot hired the interns. Jamie Pavlot knew what was going on in the office day to day. Jane Orie's directives have been clear -- in writing and verbally -- for nine years. Jane Orie did everything she could to ensure compliance. But when the cat's away, the mice will play."
Mr. Costopoulos mocked Ms. Pavlot's testimony.
"According to Jamie Pavlot, she never got a single written directive from her boss in 10 years. Never. Not a single one."
But Assistant District Attorney Lawrence Claus, in his closing, dismissed the idea that Ms. Pavlot is at fault.
"Jamie Pavlot was not running for Senate office," he said. "Jamie Pavlot was not the senator who needed to be reelected in each of these years."
He told the jury that the charges against Ms. Orie are a classic example of "public corruption at its worst."
"This is not a shotgun approach," Mr. Claus said. "It's more like the senator, herself, was playing a game of Russian roulette."
Every time a staffer made a call, or stuffed an envelope, he continued, "she was loading that chamber with a bullet and spinning."
To believe Ms. Orie, the prosecutor told the jury, is to disbelieve 24 other witnesses.
"She does not have the right, at taxpayer expense, to have a staff of employees [doing campaign work] all on the public dole," he said. "These workers are supposed to be doing the people's business.
"How in the world can this senator come to you with a straight face and deny she was doing this fundraising activity? It's counterintuitive. It just cannot fly."
Mr. Claus conceded that Ms. Orie is a good senator and continues to be.
"That does not excuse blatant criminality," he said.
Mr. Claus told the jury that not only did Ms. Orie abuse the system by using her staff to campaign, but that she also tried to cover it up, adding hand-written directives to her staff -- telling them to do campaign work after-hours or at home -- on staff emails.
"Were these messages more self-serving?" Mr. Claus asked. "Done in anticipation of using them at at trial and covering up the activity she was involved in? It all sounds good, but I submit you're going to find it's fabricated."
After closings concluded, Mr. Costopoulos said had been a long, hard trial.
"It is a very stressful hour for the defendant," he said. "We are hopeful. We are praying for the right verdict, but now we just have to wait it out."
First Published March 22, 2012 2:01 pm