More staffers testify against ex-boss Orie

March 8, 2012 12:01 am

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Michele Lantz liked her job as a legislative assistant to state Sen. Jane Orie.

She didn't object to having to staff evening events for the McCandless Republican or having to organize a large fundraising event for her in Butler County. But she did object to having to wait around at the end of each day, sometimes for an hour or more, to get permission from Chief of Staff Jamie Pavlot to leave.

The woman, who worked for Ms. Orie for less than a year from late 2001 to mid-2002, was the 13th witness called in the senator's trial on charges of theft of services, ethics violations, perjury and forgery.

Like the other witnesses called so far by the prosecution, Ms. Lantz told the jury that she spent a significant portion of her time on the state payroll doing campaign or political work for the senator. She estimated that time at about 30 percent.

When she learned that her husband, an Army reservist, was being deployed for up to 18 months, she hoped that her boss might be willing to give her a little leeway and let her leave each day at her official quitting time of 4:30 p.m. without having to await permission.

Ms. Orie refused the request and when Ms. Lantz protested, she recounted, the senator said, "'If you can, get me through the election. I'll reconsider.'"

Ms. Lantz didn't believe the senator, and so she quit.

Former staffer Jason Davidek testified that during the 2003 election year for the state Supreme Court race, he drove Ms. Orie's sister, then Judge Joan Orie Melvin, to campaign events at least 20 times around the state.

On one occasion, Mr. Davidek said, he received a $300 check from the Melvin campaign to compensate him for the work. On cross-examination, defense attorney William Costopoulos repeatedly raised questions about Mr. Davidek's termination from the office in early 2004.

The witness said Ms. Pavlot told him he was being let go because he didn't "completely respect" the senator.

Mr. Costopoulos, though, asked if it was because of the man's low productivity, cavalier attitude and lack of initiative.

Mr. Davidek denied ever being told those things.

Mr. Costopoulos also accused the witness of once having to turn the driving of Judge Orie Melvin over to her because he was "too drunk."

"That's patently false," Mr. Davidek responded. "I can guarantee you that never happened.

"Right hand up to God, that never happened."

Also testifying Wednesday was former staffer Pamela Wahal, who worked for the senator in Cranberry from 2003 to 2006. She claimed that she was fired for refusing to do political work during her legislative workday, even though she continued to do it in the evenings and on weekends.

On cross-examination, Mr. Costopoulos challenged her claim. "So, they just fired you?" he asked.

"Exactly," Ms. Wahal responded.

"No explanation was given. That's your testimony?" Mr. Costopoulos asked.

"My services were no longer needed."


First Published 2012-03-07 23:30:26

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