DA's office investigating loss of documents in Orie case
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Allegheny County District Attorney Stephen A. Zappala Jr. said investigators with his office will interview everyone who works for state Sen. Jane Orie and everyone who has access to her Republican caucus computers to find out who is responsible for about a half-dozen missing documents.
The documents, which were used as defense exhibits during Ms. Orie's trial, were sought in subpoenas issued by the prosecution in the spring following the mistrial in the case in March.
The documents were turned over to the prosecution by the caucus. But when the DA's office requested additional data on them, caucus attorneys found that the documents had since been removed from the Senate computer system.
It's the second problem with evidence in the Orie case.
Ms. Orie's first trial ended on the second day of jury deliberations when the prosecution went to the judge with allegations that the defense had submitted fraudulent documents as exhibits. In August, the district attorney's office charged Ms. Orie with perjury, forgery and tampering with evidence relating to the events at the first trial.
Attorneys for the caucus last week contacted the DA's office and said they could not find "five or six documents."
Mr. Zappala said the caucus characterized the pages as "missing from the system." He said it appears that they were deleted from Senate computers in the weeks following the mistrial.
In a written statement, the caucus law firm, Conrad O'Brien, said its own internal review revealed the problem and that it "voluntarily and confidentially disclosed it to the district attorney."
"Our client, the Senate Republican Caucus, has gone to great lengths and expended significant resources to preserve every document relevant to this case," the statement said. "Tens of thousands of documents requested by the district attorney have been provided to date. Indeed, copies of the documents at issue were previously turned over to the district attorney's office by us."
The retrial of the case was scheduled to begin Oct. 3 but was postponed until Feb. 13 when Allegheny County Common Pleas Judge Jeffrey A. Manning agreed to allow the old case to be tried in conjunction with the new counts.
"Since we have the continuance, we have time to develop this," Mr. Zappala said.
He expects the investigation, which will involve a forensics examination of caucus computers done in conjunction with state police, to take four to six weeks.
Specifically, investigators will be looking for the user name and password of the person who accessed the files and when they may have been deleted.
"Maybe they were acting at someone's direction," Mr. Zappala said. "Maybe they're a conspirator to obstruction of justice."
He does not believe that it was an underling in the office who was forced to remove the files.
The prosecutor would not specify if additional people would be charged but did say he expects that any information would be used as evidence in the senator's trial.
William Costopoulos, the attorney representing Ms. Orie, could not be reached for comment.
First Published September 30, 2011 12:00 am