From Jim O'Toole:
The lawyer for Sen. Jane Orie derided her prosecution as "a smokescreen'' and the former chief aide who testified against her as, "the biggest smoke bomb,'' as he asked a jury to acquit her of using her Senate staff and offices as a political resource.
James DePasquale, the lawyer for Janie Orie, one of the senator's sisters, professed outrage that his client was even in the courtroom.
He argued that the testimony against her was so meager that it barely merited a response. Mr. DePasquale said that the Comonwealth had decided to indict her because they were seeking "a patsy ... a fall guy'' to be charged alongside the senator, and he charged, "They didn't have the evidence or the courage to indict Justice Joan Orie Melvin.''
The charges against the senator, including theft of services and conspiracy, exrend over a ten year-period including work on her campaigns and the 2003 and 2004 Suprem Court races of Justice Melvin, another sister. The two counts against Janine Orie focus only on the 2009 high court race. Justice Orie Melvin has not been charged in the case although a grand jury is reportedly reviewing her actions in the 2009 events. Her attorney has been a regular presence in the courtroom monitoring the testimony.
After a closing argument by prosecutor Lawrence Claus and Judge Jeffrey Manning's instructions, the jury was expected to begin deliberating on the charges late Wednesday.
In a 90-minute closing argument, William Costopoulos, repeatedly assailed the credibility of Jamie Pavlot, the former chief of staff still employed in Ms Orie's office, contending that the 10-count indictment against the prominent Republican "rises and falls on her truthfulness.''
He reviewed a series of handwritten messages from the senator to the aide, in which Sen. Orie urged her, in one form or another, to be vigilant in separating political and legislative work. He mocked the fact that Ms. Pavlot had testified that she did not recognize any of those directives.
"Never saw it ... never saw it,'' Mr. Costopolous said over and over in an ironic commentary on Ms. Pavlot's testimony.
Pointing to the fact that Ms. Pavlot, like other prosecution witnesses, was testifying under a grant of immunity, he said, "Not only did she cut her deal, she's sitting out in Cranberry making $80,000 plus benefits, doing nothing.''
Ms. Pavlot testified that after the investigation of the senator commenced, she was stripped of her title and moved from the senator's district headquarters on McKnight Road to a satellite office in Butler County.
Mr. Costopoulos also turned his scorn on Jennifer Rioja, the former intern whose complaint of seeing political work done in the office in 2009 sparked this investigation.
He called her, "Jennifer Rioja, an intern, Pittsburgh Jen, who was using Senate computers to tout her Commie, liberal beliefs.''
Pittsburgh Jen was the signature Ms. Rioja used in a blog post, unearthed by the defense in which she described her self as a commie liberal from Pittsburgh in a comment thread on the web site, Jezebel.
Much of Mr. Costopoulos' argument focused on inconsistencies between Ms Pavlot's trial testimony descriptions of the same events in unsworn interviews with investigators in the early days of the investigation.
As he had in cross-examining Ms. Pavlot, Mr. Costopoulos highlighted contrasts between relatively innocent characterizations of office events in the interviews and the more damning versions that she gave from the stand.
The defense lawyer also alluded to political motives in the case.
"We just pretend that this elephant in the courtroom isn't there,'' he said, noting that the senator's indictment came in an election year.
In his closing arguments, Mr. DePasquale portrayed his client as a peripheral figure, barely involved in the events in the office. He recited a litany of names of witnesses who had never mentioned Janine Orie, who was an aide to Justice Melvin and is accused of helping to direct the use of the senator's staffers for the justice's campaigning.
He explained that Janine Orie did not testify in the trial because the charges "are so insulting and so ridiculous that they do not need a response.''