Pennsylvania Superior Court Affirms Conviction Of Former Pennsylvania State Senator
By: John A. Schwab
The Pennsylvania Superior Court ruled yesterday on the appeal of former Pennsylvania State Senator, Jane Orie, convicted in March 2012 of using state employees for political fundraising and campaigning. After two jury trials – the first ended in a mistrial – Orie was found guilty of theft by diversion of services and conflict of interest as well as tampering with physical evidence. The first trial ended in a mistrial when, during jury deliberations, prosecutors discovered that certain defense exhibits had been altered, which resulted in additional charges against Orie. The altered exhibits included a forged signature and purported to show that Orie’s chief of staff was responsible for overseeing the alleged conduct in Orie’s Senatorial office.
In a 76-page opinion, the Superior Court addressed all ten issues raised in Orie’s appeal, including claims that insufficient evidence was presented at trial to convict Orie of tampering with evidence. However, Pennsylvania’s standard of review for sufficiency of the evidence proved to be a difficult burden to overcome given that the government’s evidence was viewed in a light most favorable “to the verdict winner.” The evidence at trial showed that the documents were in Orie’s sole possession up to the time the she turned them over to her counsel. Moreover, Orie submitted the documents as evidence in her own case in chief and authenticated them. The parties also stipulated that no alterations were made by Orie’s attorney or his staff or by the prosecutor or his staff. As a result, the Court held that the evidence – albeit circumstantial – was sufficient for the jury to convict Orie. The Court found that the remaining appellate issues were also without merit and affirmed the conviction.
Joan Orie Melvin, a former Pennsylvania Supreme Court Justice, and Janine Orie, her sister, were also convicted of charges related to misuse of state-paid employees. Orie Melvin’s sentence included three years of house arrest, two years probation, a $55,000 fine, and community service at a local soup kitchen. Janine Orie received a sentence of one year of house arrest and one year probation.
Jane Orie is presently serving 2½ to 10 years in prison for her conviction. The full-text of the Superior Court’s opinion can be found here.