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Testimony Begins In State Sen. Orie Trial

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(Source: KDKA)

(Source: KDKA)

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PITTSBURGH (KDKA/AP) — Testimony started in the ethics trial of State Senator Jane Orie and her sister Janine.

The trial was set to begin this morning, but was delayed when two jurors were excused from duty.

KDKA’s Harold Hayes reports that one of the jurors told the judge that she was deluged with information by a family member and that would prevent her from being fair.

The second juror said that he had overheard conversations about the case and he too could not hear it fairly.

The judge and lawyers went back into the jury room and two replacements were selected before noon.

Orie is charged with theft of services, conflict of interest and other charges for allegedly having her state-funded legislative staff illegally do campaign and fundraising work for Orie and a third sister, state Supreme Court Justice Joan Orie Melvin.

Jury selection had initially been completed on Tuesday. Opening statements in the case started at 1:30 p.m. today.

Prosecutor Lawrence Claus told the jury in his opening statement that Senator Jane Orie used legislative staff for political purposes.

He said: “She didn’t have to hire a political staff. That would cost her money. She could use a staff already in place five days a week, 52 weeks a year….it was all on the company dime….the state payroll.”

He also said staffers drove Orie Melvin across the state for her political campaigns using legislative staff.

Defense attorney William Costopoulos told the jury campaign work was done legitimately by staffers because they got comp time. He alleged this is a political prosecution.

“Politics is a dirty business,” he said. “For some it’s a contact sport, but this hit is below the belt.”

The trial is expected to last two weeks.

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