Orie aide tells jury of work done for judicial sister
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Not long after Jamie Pavlot removed two boxes of what she considered to be political materials from the legislative office of her boss, former state Sen. Jane Orie, on Nov. 1, 2009, she said she received a phone call.
It was from Ms. Orie, and the woman's sister, then-state Superior Court Judge Joan Orie Melvin.
After their initial greeting, the women asked Ms. Pavlot what was in the files she removed.
She explained that there were expense reports, political literature and contribution lists.
"Jane said, 'Anything political of mine, pull out,' " Ms. Pavlot recounted to the jury. "The judge said, 'Anything political of mine, I want you to pull out of those boxes.'
"I said OK, but I didn't do it," Ms. Pavlot said. "They both spoke the words to me."
Now state Supreme Court Justice Orie Melvin, along with another sister, Janine Orie, are on trial in the Allegheny County Court of Common Pleas, charged with theft of services and criminal conspiracy.
The women are accused of using Jane Orie's Senate staff and the judge's judicial staff to campaign for Justice Orie Melvin for the high court in both 2003 and 2009.
Ms. Pavlot, a key witness in the case who was granted immunity, spent most of the day Monday on direct examination by Assistant District Attorney Lawrence Claus. Cross-examination is expected to begin this morning.
Throughout her testimony, Ms. Pavlot identified dozens of emails sent to her from then-Judge Orie Melvin, Janine Orie and others who worked on the Supreme Court campaign in 2009. Most of the emails involved Ms. Pavlot giving orders to other legislative staffers or receiving orders to do campaign-related work.
She estimated that she spent 20 to 50 percent of her time doing political work. "It was being done for a number of years -- for all the years that I was employed," Ms. Pavlot said.
She also told the jury that she received directives not only from Jane Orie, but from her sisters, as well.
"Sen. Orie told me ... she told me from the beginning, 'Look, if either of my sisters, Janine or Joan, give you a request, you need to follow that like I gave it.' "
Ms. Pavlot testified that she and other staffers for the legislative office often received comp time for doing campaign work, and that then-Superior Court Judge Orie Melvin did not have a local person to handle fundraising for her 2009 campaign for Supreme Court, and that she and another senate staffer, Joshua Dott, served that function.
Among the campaign work Ms. Pavlot talked about was collecting nominating petition signatures, working Election Day polls and preparing fundraising invitations.
"Did that take time out of your workday?" Mr. Claus asked.
"Sure it did," she answered. "I had to stop what I was doing and work on this."
Ms. Pavlot explained to the jurors how the investigation into political activity began -- with a report by a University of Pittsburgh intern first to the state attorney general's office, and then the district attorney on Oct. 30, 2009.
When the intern told Ms. Pavlot she was resigning over campaign work early that morning, Ms. Pavlot invited her to sit down and discuss it. She also asked the student if it was possible that the campaign work she saw occurring was being done on staffers' comp time.
Ms. Pavlot admitted to Mr. Claus that wouldn't have been the case.
"I knew the senator -- and my loyalty to her -- that that's how I should respond," Ms. Pavlot said.
When told about the intern's allegations, Jane Orie instructed Ms. Pavlot to draft a letter to the woman's professors, as well as to Pitt's chancellor, dismissing the allegations and assuring them political work would not have been done in the legislative office.
Ms. Pavlot said it was her idea, on Nov. 1, 2009, to remove the boxes from the Senate office because she knew they contained campaign materials.
She later turned them over to her attorney.
First Published January 29, 2013 12:00 am