A judge ordered a mistrial in the public corruption case against a state senator Thursday after ruling documents used by the defense had the key prosecution witness' signature pasted onto them to undercut her credibility.
Allegheny County Judge Jeffrey Manning said a fraud had been perpetrated against the court. He ordered a mistrial on charges against state Sen. Jane Orie, R-Allegheny, and her sister, Janine Orie, 56. The judge further angered Orie's defense attorney, William Costopoulos, when he brought the jury into the courtroom to explain his decision.
Costopoulos argued it was "outrageous" to conclude the defense altered them, and that Manning stating so publicly might jeopardize any eventual retrial.
"It's a fraud on the court, on the jury and on the justice system," Manning said. "And frankly Mr. Costopoulos, that's what's outrageous here."
Sen. Orie, 49, and her sister, Janine, remain charged with conspiring to use the senator's staff to do campaign work for a third sister, Joan Orie Melvin, when she was elected to the state Supreme Court in 2009. The senator, alone, also is charged with using her state-funded staff to do political work since 2001 that benefited her and Melvin's failed Supreme Court bid in 2003. The charges against Orie also include removing some document evidence from her office and tampering with another key document even before Deputy District Attorney Law Claus raised questions about two new documents Thursday.
Manning said the evidence will remain in the court's custody so both sides can determine their authenticity before a new trial is scheduled. That's expected to take months _ and Costopoulos promised to contest a new trial on double jeopardy grounds. Costopoulos wanted the jury to render a verdict and said prosecutors could later file charges if they could prove any wrongdoing with the documents in question.
The attorneys and parties couldn't comment on Manning's decision because of a gag order he imposed last year.
But based on comments by Claus and Manning in court, questions remain about who altered the two documents in question, and others authenticated by the senator and used to undercut the key witness, Orie's former chief of staff, Jamie Pavlot.
"Mr. Costopoulos, I have nothing but the highest regard for you, but I think you ought to look in your own house for the culprit," Manning said. Claus told the judge the documents could result in more criminal charges, without specifying a target.
Costopoulos told the jury the case rested on Pavlot's credibility. Pavlot testified the senator's staff routinely did political work and that Orie even gave them comp time for doing so. Pavlot's credibility took a hit when she claimed she never saw the two documents, which bore the "signatures" Manning deemed bogus, because they included comments from Orie that strongly suggested Pavlot both controlled the senator's staff and was told to prohibit campaigning on state time.
The judge was incredulous after Costopoulos said he couldn't see the apparent manipulations magnified on a document projector, saying "Ray Charles could see that those signatures were doctored." But Manning granted a two-hour delay during which Claus found a document expert who testified the signatures were cut-and-pasted onto the documents.
Manning scolded the defense for not providing the documents to prosecutors earlier in trial, violating a court order, saying that kept Claus from checking their validity before the jury had the case.
Orie worked as a prosecutor for the state Attorney General's Office and, ironically, in Allegheny County before being elected to the state House in the 1990s. She won a special election to the Senate in 2001 and was re-elected in 2002, 2006 and 2010 _ the last time several months after the charges she faces were filed.
The Ories have steadfastly denied wrongdoing and Melvin has not been charged, though her attorney, J. Alan Johnson, has acknowledged an ongoing grand jury investigation of the justice pertaining to related misconduct allegations.
Janine Orie has been Melvin's aide since Melvin was a Superior Court judge, and followed her to the Supreme Court as an aide, though she has been suspended from that $67,000-a-year job since the district attorney's office charged her and the senator last April.