- Associated Press - Thursday, March 6, 2014

PITTSBURGH (AP) - A three-judge state Superior Court panel has rejected former Republican state Sen. Jane Orie’s appeal of her conviction and prison sentence for campaign corruption and for introducing forged evidence, which resulted in a mistrial before she was eventually found guilty.

Orie was convicted in 2012 and sentenced to 2½ to 10 years in prison. She was released from prison last month after completing 75 percent of her minimum sentence, under a rule designed to benefit non-violent offenders who are unlikely to commit future crimes.

The appeals panel’s 76-page opinion issued Thursday rejected 10 issues Orie raised, including her claim that Allegheny County Judge Jeffrey Manning improperly declared a mistrial in 2011, when the forged documents were discovered in evidence. Orie argued the second trial that resulted, at which she was convicted, amounted to double jeopardy.

“The admission of the forged documents into evidence was not only a fraud upon the court, but undermined the jury’s fact-finding function, and we agree with Judge Manning there was no other adequate method, except a mistrial, to cure the harm,” the panel ruled.

The court also rejected arguments that search warrants for Orie’s computer files - the case was built largely on staff emails - were overly broad. Orie also argued she shouldn’t have been sentenced to repay the Senate Republican Caucus more than $110,000 for defending her in the investigation’s early stages. Caucus attorneys challenged the computer search warrants, and, later, helped comply with requests for that data.

The court also found that Manning properly rejected Orie’s claim that Democrat District Attorney Stephen Zappala Jr. was politically motivated to prosecute her. Orie claimed her family’s history of opposing legalized gambling, in which Zappala’s relatives have a stake, prompted the investigation. The court agreed with Manning that that was innuendo, not fact.

Orie could not immediately be reached for comment at her home in Pittsburgh’s North Hills suburbs, and her attorney, William Costopoulos, did not immediately return a call seeking comment on whether Orie may appeal to the Pennsylvania Supreme Court.

Although Orie’s prison sentence ended Feb. 9, Costopoulos told The Associated Press last month that the appeal still mattered.

“It would go a long way to restoring something that is very important to her, her reputation,” Costopoulos said then. “I also believe her (state) pension would re-vest and I believe she would be eligible - not that she would exercise her right - to run for office again.”

Orie was convicted of theft of services, conflict of interest, and forgery. The forgery charges stemmed from documents she and Costopoulos introduced at her first trial in 2011 that were meant to discredit a key witness.

The conviction on the non-forgery charges stemmed from Orie using her state-funded legislative staff to perform campaign work for her.

Orie was acquitted of charges that she ordered her staff to work on the 2003 and 2009 Supreme Court campaigns of her sister, Joan Orie Melvin, who was then a Superior Court judge.

Melvin, 57, was later charged, tried and convicted separately that she conspired with Orie to have the Senate staffers work on Melvin’s judicial campaigns. Melvin was also convicted of misusing her Superior Court staff during her unsuccessful 2003 campaign and in 2009, when she won a Supreme Court seat.

Melvin has been removed from the court and her sentence, which includes three years’ house arrest and other penalties, has been suspended while she appeals her conviction to the Superior Court.

Allegheny County prosecutors declined to comment on the Orie ruling.

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