The Allegheny County Republican submitted her resignation in a letter to Senate President Joe Scarnati dated Friday—the same day Justice Joan Orie Melvin was charged with using her Superior Court staff for campaign work during two bids for a seat on the high court.
"It has been an honor and a privilege for me to have served in the Senate of Pennsylvania," Jane Orie wrote in the two-sentence letter announcing her resignation, which became effective Monday.
A top aide to Scarnati confirmed the Senate leader received the letter. Scarnati's staff said that Lt. Gov. James Cawley now has 10 days to schedule a special election to fill Orie's seat and that election must be held at least 60 days after Cawley's announcement but no later than the Nov. 6 general election.
What remains unclear is whether Orie's seat will continue to be based in Pittsburgh's northern suburbs or be moved to Monroe County in eastern Pennsylvania under a reapportionment plan that isn't expected to be voted on until at least next month by a commission made up of four legislative leaders and a judge.
Jane Orie is set for sentencing June 4 on 14 counts related to the misuse of her taxpayer-funded staff for campaign purposes. She was convicted in March of several counts of theft of services, conflict of interest and forgery.
She had been scheduled to be sentenced Monday, and her attorney, William Costopoulos, had said in a motion to delay that hearing that Orie would resign on or before that date even if her sentencing was delayed. Allegheny County Judge Jeffrey Manning initially refused to delay the sentencing, but eventually postponed it two weeks to give Costopoulos more time to gather letters from supporters who will ask for leniency.
Orie, 50, likely faces the loss of her pension and, depending on a presentencing report still being compiled, will likely face a recommended prison term under state sentencing guidelines that take into account her prior record—the former county and state prosecutor has none—and the seriousness of her crimes.
Most notably, Orie was convicted of forging documents she introduced to defend herself at her first campaign corruption trial last year, which ended in mistrial in March 2011 when Manning agreed with prosecutors that one document in particular was so blatantly faked that "even Ray Charles" could see it.
County prosecutors are also seeking more than $1.3 million to reimburse taxpayers for legal costs paid by the state Senate relating to Orie's defense.
Melvin is charged with using her former Superior Court legal staff to campaign on her behalf in 2003, when she unsuccessfully ran for the state's highest court, and in 2009 when she won a Supreme Court seat. Melvin faces a preliminary hearing on those charges Friday, though her attorney is expected to ask for that hearing to be postponed.
The charges against Melvin echo those against a third sister, Janine Orie, who headed Melvin's staff on the Superior Court. Those charges are based on the grand jury testimony of other current and former Melvin staffers, including law clerks, who contend Melvin and Janine Orie directed them to perform the judicial campaign work on state time.
Janine Orie, 57, also faces charges stemming from the same grand jury investigation. She was charged along with Sen. Orie, with whom she lives in McCandless, of conspiring to use the senator's staff to also illegally campaign on Melvin's behalf. Sen. Orie was acquitted on the charges related to the campaigning that allegedly benefited Melvin and Janine Orie faces a separate retrial scheduled for August.
Associated Press writer Marc Levy in Harrisburg contributed to this report. Mandak reported from Pittsburgh.