The prosecution and the defense in the corruption and conspiracy trial of Pennsylvania Senator Jane Orie and her sister Janine Orie both presented their opening arguments to the jury Thursday and both paint a very different picture of how things were done in the Senator’s North Hills office.
Deputy Allegheny County District Attorney Lawrence Claus told the jury that they would hear from as many as 18 former and current employees of Senator Orie, and they would all testify that they did campaign work for the senator and her sister, Pennsylvania Supreme Court Justice Joan Orie Melvin, using state-owned assets and while being paid for their state jobs. Claus says they were “on the company dime” and that is stealing from the taxpayers. He says records will show that so much work was done by the senator’s staff that her campaign finance reports show very little fundraising or campaign management spending. He says many of the staffers knew what they were doing was wrong and some even kept records because “they knew this day was coming.”
Claus went on to outline how he intends to prove that senator Orie knew what she was doing was wrong because she tried to hide evidence once a whistle blower stepped forward and District Attorney Stephen Zappala launched an investigation. He says she also tried to cover her tracks by having campaign letters reprinted on different letterhead. Claus says Janine Orie, who is a staffer for Judge Orie Melvin, directed much of the campaign work.
Senator Orie’s lawyer, William Costopouls, told the jury that the prosecution’s case is so weak that investigators had to go back nine years just to get enough evidence to add up to something worth prosecuting. He admitted that campaign work was done in the Senator’s office by her staff but he says it was done after hour or while the staff was using comp time. He says the staffers did the work because they loved the senator and because they wanted to make sure she was reelected. He reminded the jury that if the Senator did not keep her job the staff was all out of a job too.
Costopouls went on to tell the jury about Senator Orie’s efforts to raise a million dollars for the flight 93 families. He noted that it was all done with donated time and materials. He led the jury to believe such a thing was possible with her campaign efforts as well. He added that during many of her campaigns she did not need a big campaign staff because she was running against little or no competition.
Costopouls wrapped up his arguments by opining that the case was nothing more than a political vendetta on the part of DA Zappala. He told the jury, “Politics is a dirty business. For many it is a contact sport. But this hit, ladies and gentleman, is below the belt.”
Janine Orie’s lawyer, James DePasquale, told the jury that the prosecution does not have enough evidence against his client to “cut away the cloak of innocence” every defendant enters into the courtroom wearing. He says she is little more than a patsy because the prosecution needed someone to sit next to Senator Orie during the trial.
DePasquale outlined a number of emails he says he will enter into the record at a later date that show all of Janine’s conversations with the Senator’s staff were above board. He says she never asked them to do anything wrong and she never stepped foot into the Senator’s North Hills office. He says rather than Janine at the prosecution table, it should be Orie’s chief of staff Jamie Pavlot facing charges.
The prosecution began to present its case by calling a staffer who contended her campaign work was not done on comp time. The trial continues Friday.
Opening arguments had been set for 9:30 AM but were delayed when two jurors had to be dismissed.