• Court upholds ex-Sen. Orie's convictions in elections case

    By: MARK SCOLFORO, Associated Press

    HARRISBURG, Pa. (AP) - A former Pennsylvania state senator's conviction for using government employees to work on political campaigns was upheld Tuesday by a panel of federal appeals judges.

    A 3rd U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals ruled against former Sen. Jane Clare Orie, saying her second trial in 2012 did not constitute double jeopardy and that the trial judge properly prevented testimony from a defense expert.

    The appeals court said it was not a violation for the first trial to have been halted during jury deliberations because a forgery had just come to light that could have tainted the verdict.

    "Forging evidence is one way to get a mistrial," wrote Judge Stephanos Bibas, backing a state appeals court's analysis that a mistrial was needed to counteract the fraud.

    "Given the importance of the forged documents, the threat to the integrity of the verdict and the lack of a good alternative remedy, the only solution was a mistrial," Bibas wrote.

    Orie also argued she was improperly prevented from putting on an expert on the topic of state Senate rules who supposedly would have testified that employees were able to use compensatory time to do campaign work from Senate offices.

    The federal judges ruled that would have been immaterial, so her constitutional right to present her defense was not violated.

    "To convict, the jury had to find that she told her staff to do political work on the state's time," Bibas wrote. "And her expert testimony about what employees could do on comp time could not have affected that finding."

    Orie, R-Allegheny, served most of a 2½-year minimum jail sentence for theft of services, conspiracy, evidence tampering and forgery. She resigned from the Senate following her conviction.

    Her defense lawyer, Bill Costopoulos, said the 3rd Circuit opinion was being reviewed and a decision about further proceedings has not been made.

    Prosecutors welcomed the ruling.

    "We agree with the well-written and well-reasoned opinion from the Third Circuit and it reflects the high confidence that we have had all along in this prosecution," said Mike Manko, spokesman for the Allegheny County district attorney's office.

    Orie's appeal had been consolidated with those of her sisters, former state Supreme Court Justice Joan Orie Melvin and Orie Melvin's aide, Janine Orie. The 3rd Circuit ruling said opinions in those cases will be issued separately.

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