Jane Orie: No class | Slag Heap
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Wednesday, April 7, 2010

Jane Orie: No class

Posted By on Wed, Apr 7, 2010 at 7:30 PM

Just finished reading the grand jury presentment on the charges facing state Sen. Jane Orie and her sister, Janine. Gotta say: It doesn't look so good for the Orie Sisters. The timing alone is pretty terrible: The grand jury notes that the alleged misconduct took place even as other state legislators were being burned on similar charges:

Much of Orie's most recent use of her legislative staff [for political purposes] allegedly occurred after a lengthy federal investigation resulted in the March 2009 conviction of former State Senator Vincent Fumo for similar misuse of his governmental staff.

But jeez, at least Fumo never tried to make his accuser wear a dunce cap, or sit in the corner. Judging from the grand jury presentment, I'm guessing Orie might have been willing to give that a shot.

You may recall that the investigation began with a University of Pittsburgh grad student, Jennifer Knapp Rioja, who complained that she'd been pressured to do political work during an unpaid internship in Orie's office. Shortly after resigning her post, Rioja had an text-message chat with Orie staffer Charles Young. According to the presentment,

Young cautioned Rioja that Orie knew "high-ranking people" at the University of Pittsburgh and Young speculated that Orie would contact these people and the "entire situation would go away". Transcripts of the aforementioned text messages subsequently were received into evidence by this Grand Jury after having been identified by Rioja.

Indeed, that same day, one of Rioja's professors, Tracey Soska, got a call from Orie's chief of staff, Jamie Pavlot: 

Pavlot indicated that she was angry about Rioja's resignation and "did not appreciate Rioja leaving under those circumstances". Pavlot further explained to Soska that Rioja was "misinformed" about what she had purportedly witnessed at Orie's senate office. Pavlot then cautioned that the actions by Rioja raised concerns as to whether Orie would want to continue to place other interns from the University of Pittsburgh in the future.

Ooooooh. A couple days after that,  Rioja received a letter from Orie

denying any allegations of political campaigning during legislative time and alleging that Rioja may have had a "political agenda" when she agreed to work for Orie. The letter that Orie sent to Rioja was copied to [professors] Tracey Soska, John Delassandro, and Chancellor Mark A. Nordenberg of the University of Pittsburgh.

For her part, Pavlot told the grand jury that she'd been

directed by Orie herself to contact the University of Pittsburgh through both the two supervising professors and Chancellor Nordenberg, in order to try to convince them that [Rioja's claims] were the result of a "misunderstanding" ... In fact, Pavlot admitted that the contents of the letter that was hand-drafted by Orie herself were false when Orie claimed: "At no time has any member of my staff engaged in any political activity during, or on official state working time."

And this part probably goes without saying, but both of Rioja's professors told the grand jury that "the Chancellor of the University of Pittsburgh generally does not become involved with issues involving internships." 

Like many other local elected officials, Jane Orie is a member of the Board of Fellows for Pitt's Institute of Politics, which meets once a year and helps with "design and implementation of programming consistent with the mission, vision, and values of the Institute." Can't wait to find out what she added to the curriculum. But it's not like she sits on the university's board of trustees or anything. (Guess who does? Allegheny County DA Stephen Zappala's uncle.) 

UPDATE: Of course, on further reflection, Orie does have her friends on the Pitt board. For example, there's John Verbanac, with whom she is quite cordial.  

In fact, I can't help but wondering if the Institute of Politics might have a seat opening up sometime soon. If so, I nominate Jennifer Knapp Rioja to fill it.

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