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Sen. Orie Takes Stand in Own Defense

Republican state Sen. Jane Orie testified Monday that she "was very attuned" to the state's rules forbidding campaign corruption and did everything in her power to ensure her staff didn't break those rules, instead blaming any illegal acts that may have occurred on her former chief of staff.

Orie's testimony came during her retrial on theft of services and conflict of interest charges that she illegally used her state-funded staff to do political work that benefited herself and her sister, state Supreme Court Justice Joan Orie Melvin, since 2001. Melvin isn't charged.

More than a dozen current and former staff members have testified that Orie not only authorized the political work but also sometimes personally approved comp time for those who did it. Orie denied that Monday and said her former chief of staff, Jamie Pavlot, who testified under a grant of immunity, was responsible for any transgressions.

"I did everything in my power to do as best I could that all my directives were complied with," Orie said, referring to a series of handwritten orders to avoid doing campaign work on state time that she claims were given to Pavlot at various times over the years.

Allegheny County Deputy District Attorney Lawrence Claus contends those directives — which Orie acknowledges scrawling on printouts of email strings, faxes and other communications — were created after the fact and are self-serving forgeries.

A U.S. Secret Service document expert who testified last week said, however, that samples taken from those documents show the inks with which Orie wrote were commercially available on the various dates Orie claims those directives were given. Orie repeated under oath that the documents were genuine and not backdated.

The document expert, Joseph Stephens, testified his ink analysis didn't prove the documents were genuine, only that they could be.

Stephens also found, however, that most of Orie's handwritten directives were created using just two of the 18 inks he identified on those documents. Stephens said the use of only two inks to create dozens of documents from 2001 through 2009 could be "a sign that they may have been added all at the same time, later," as Claus contends.

The senator's credibility is a key issue at her retrial because her first trial last year on only the campaign corruption charges ended in a mistrial. That occurred after Common Pleas Judge Jeffrey Manning agreed with prosecutors that one defense exhibit meant to discredit Pavlot was a forgery so obvious that "even Ray Charles" could see it.

That document is what prompted prosecutors to have the ink on the handwritten directives tested. And while that analysis didn't rule out the handwritten directives from Orie could have been written when she said, the Secret Service expert confirmed the document that prompted the judge's Ray Charles comment and two others said to have been signed by Pavlot were forgeries.

Orie has yet to testify about those forged documents but was expected to address them when her testimony continued Tuesday.

The documents were introduced at trial last year by Orie partly in an effort to prove that Pavlot had signed off on documents dealing with rules banning campaigning by Orie's paid staff.

Pavlot testified last year, and repeated earlier at the retrial, that she had either never seen the documents in question or had seen them but never signed them.

Orie's testimony Monday didn't deal specifically with any of the signatures.

In opening statements to the jury nearly three weeks ago, Orie's attorney, William Costopoulos, told the jury he doesn't know who forged the documents but said the prosecution can't say, either. The forgeries were done either "by somebody intending to do her harm or to help her in a misguided thought process," Costopoulos said then.

Orie has yet to address the five perjury charges she faces that stem from statements she made under oath at the last trial, denying she set up a campaign office across the street from her legislative office in late 2005 or early 2006.

Prosecutors contend that Orie set up that office as a sham because another Republican state legislator was convicted in 2005 on ethics charges for using his staff to campaign on state time.

Several current and former Orie staffers have testified at the retrial that the campaign office was poorly equipped with outdated computers and was established for appearance's sake.

Copyright 2012 The Associated Press.