Orie wants alleged leaks probed
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The defense attorney for state Sen. Jane Orie, R-McCandless, is asking for the appointment of a special prosecutor to investigate alleged leaks from the grand jury.
William Costopoulos contends that the Allegheny County district attorney's office leaked information to local news media that the senator's sister, state Supreme Court Justice Joan Orie Melvin, received a grand jury target letter in December.
In an earlier motion, Mr. Costopoulos asked that the jury hearing the trial of Ms. Orie and another sister, Janine Orie, be sequestered, but the new motion takes the claims a step further.
He argues that an investigation into the purported leaks "could produce probative evidence of prosecutorial misconduct."
Mr. Costopoulos goes on to say that the results of such an investigation could be the basis for a motion to dismiss the charges against his client.
Mike Manko, a spokesman with the district attorney's office, said he had no comment on the request for a special prosecutor.
But in a written answer filed regarding jury sequestration, Assistant District Attorney Lawrence Claus denies that any information was leaked by prosecutors.
Instead, he implied that the leak came from the defense camp.
"[V]arious attorneys associated with the Orie family, and even one member of the Orie family itself, have been identified as the source of those reports of purported 'grand jury' activity related to the Ories," Mr. Claus wrote.
He called the claims by the defense "unsubstantiated, bald accusations."
Allegheny County Common Pleas Judge Jeffrey A. Manning, who is presiding over the Orie criminal trial scheduled to begin Feb. 27, referred the motion for a special prosecutor to Judge Joseph James, who is the supervising judge of the grand jury.
University of Pittsburgh law professor John Burkoff, who has been following the Orie case closely, said motions asking for special prosecutors in these types of situations are uncommon.
"It has to be clearly leaked information, and it has to be significant," he said. "The judge has to be aware this is an offensive [tactic] by the defense, and the judge will factor that into his decision on a request like this."
Further, he said, if a special prosecutor were appointed, he or she "should not be looking in any one direction."
"Obviously, the main event is the trial itself. The prosecution shouldn't be leaking anything. It's not appropriate. If, in fact there really were leaks, frankly, it is something that is worth investigating," Mr. Burkoff said. "But it's a sideshow."
In the meantime, Mr. Claus also has filed several requests to bar the defense from raising a number of arguments during the trial.
He asked that the court not permit Mr. Costopoulos to claim the prosecution of Jane Orie is politically motivated. Mr. Claus also asked that the defense attorney for Janine Orie not be permitted to comment or argue at trial about Justice Melvin's status in the case.
At the original trial in the case last year, James DePasquale argued during his closing, "The prosecution of Janine Orie was wrong ... They made their rush to judgment because they needed a fall guy, a patsy to sit there with Sen. Jane Orie," Mr. Claus recounted in his motion. "They didn't have the evidence or the courage to indict Supreme Court Justice Joan Orie Melvin."
Mr. Claus called those statements improper, and said they should be disallowed at the retrial because they are "intended to plant the seeds of jury nullification in the minds of the fact-finders."
Mr. DePasquale said he believed "the sum and substance of all these motions is that the defendants should not be allowed to put on a defense."
Those motions are expected to be discussed at a pre-trial hearing in the case scheduled this morning before Judge Manning.
First Published February 14, 2012 12:00 am