A trial court judge in western Pennsylvania has for the first time invoked a 16-year-old,
never before used law that requires elected official convicted on public corruption charges to reimburse taxpayers for legal fees relating to the person’s defense.
In an order last week, Allegheny County Common Pleas Court Judge Jeffrey A. Manning determined that former state Sen. Jane Orie, a Republican who had served the Pittsburgh area, owes the state thousands of dollars in legal expenses stemming from her March conviction on five felony and nine misdemeanor counts.
The criminal charges, brought by Allegheny County District Attorney Stephen A. Zappala, Jr., accused Orie of using state employees to work on her campaign and subsequently participate in a cover-up after it was learned the legislator was being targeted for prosecution.
Orie, who served in the state Senate for a decade, was sentenced last month to 2.5 to 10 years in state prison for her crimes. She had already resigned from her elected position.
The 1996 law that requires the payback of taxpayer-funded defense had never been used before, according to media reports, despite the fact that since that time numerous Pennsylvania elected officials were convicted on public corruption related charges.
That all changed last Tuesday when Manning issued a ruling stating that Orie is responsible for reimbursing the state for some of the costs relating to her trial.
Commonwealth attorneys had requested that the court order Orie to pay defense reimbursements in addition to standard restitution and the costs of prosecution.
A hearing on the matter was held on June 4, according to court records.
The parties, according to Manning’s judicial opinion, disagreed on the amount owed as far as restitution goes.
Manning agreed with prosecutors who asserted that the appropriate amount is the value of the services diverted according to its trial expert.
That amount was determined to be $23,269.74.
In addition to that restitution, Orie was ordered to pay treble damages since state law says that any person who obtains financial gain from violating the state Ethics Act must pay triple the amount of the restitution owed.
Additionally, Manning ordered Orie to reimburse the commonwealth the sum of $110,650 for the costs incurred by the Senate Republican Caucus in its use of outside counsel to represent Orie at trial.
Those reimbursements are broken down as follows: $3,210 to the law firm of Ward McGough LLC; $102,441.50 to Conrad O’Brien P.C.; and $4,999 to the Law Offices of Vincent B. Mancini & Associates.
In his order, a copy of which was provided to the Pennsylvania Record, Manning also ordered Orie to forfeit $89,670.18 in pension contributions being held by the Pennsylvania State Employee Retirement System, which will be paid to the Allegheny County Department of Court Records.
Prosecutors had originally asked for close to $2 million from Orie, but Manning calculated a lesser amount owed.
One thing is clear from the judicial opinion: while the amount of money was in dispute, there’s no denying that the judge was displeased with the former senator’s actions.
“The defendant was a public official. Public monies were expended to defend her,” Manning wrote. “She is required to reimburse the Commonwealth of Pennsylvania for the monies spent to defend her.”
Orie’s sister, suspended state Supreme Court Justice Joan Orie Melvin, faces her own corruption charges that she used her then-Superior Court staff to work on her campaign for a seat on the high court, to which she subsequently became elected.
Zappala, the Allegheny County District Attorney, is also handling the case against Orie Melvin.