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Copy, Cut, Paste, Copy. The Orie Case Morphs into Two Cases.

Posted By Cliff Tuttle | March 4, 2011


Photo: KDKA Television.


The dramatic events of the Orie trial, where a mistrial was declared after the jury had begun to deliberate, turned on whether the signature of the key prosecution witness on at least two documents in evidence had been forged.  See the little loop that intersects the top of the P?  Well, it doesn’t belong there.  It appears to be part of another signature from another document, cut and pasted.

Here’s a story that illustrates how it can be done.

Once upon a time, back in the seventies, there was a divorce.  The ex-husband decided to get even with his former wife’s lawyer.  He had a letter from the lawyer, scissors, glue and a copier.  He copied the letter and cut off the letterhead at the top and the signature at the bottom.  Then he composed another letter, addressed to the members of the Bar Association, inviting them to join in celebrating Gay and Lesbian Law Week.  In order to get into the swing of things, the letter suggested ordering some explicit videos from the accompanying brochure. After pasting the letterhead on the top of the fake letter and the signature on the bottom , he copied a few thousand and sent one to every lawyer in town.

And that is all it takes. Any amateur can do it.

Of course,  the same amateur can also make a forged check the same way, rather easily.  Did you hear the one about the freelance writer who added a few zeros to a check from a magazine, using a computer with no special software? It had a mechanically produced signature on the original, so its use on the fake check attracted no attention. Color copiers are also the reason why the United States Treasury has changed its currency.  Its too easy.

At one time, photocopied evidence was viewed with suspicion.  Lawyers would demand originals or a convincing explanation why the originals were not available. Today we accept copies that could be forged with little or no scrutiny.  Demanding an original signature is considered by some to be an early sign of mental illness.

Our predecessors were not so trusting.  They designed deeds, mortgages and notes on long continuous pieces of paper, which folded over, accordion style.  This made it impossible for a forger to replace one of the pages. With the advent of computer-generated documents, this wholesome practice was dropped and no one objected.

The Orie case has now taken a turn into uncharted territory.   This case was pulled from the jury while it was deliberating.  Defense counsel, William Costopoulos, raised the issue of double jeopardy. But as a player in the creation of the current state of the law on double jeopardy, he must know how difficult that road  will be under the facts in this case.  There are double jeopardy cases where the mistrial was caused by prosecutorial misconduct or because the prosecution induced the defense to call for a mistrial.  But this is probably the first double jeopardy case in Pennsylvania involving defense misconduct.

This case will break legal ground for another reason.  The prosecution is conducting an investigation into the process whereby the tainted exhibits, and perhaps many more, were created.  This runs directly into the sacred right of lawyer-client privilege.  It is unlikely that the privilege will be voluntarily waived.  Can the judge order the defense to cooperate? If so, how far does that cooperation extend?  If not, how can the investigation be accomplished?  These and related issues will involve a trip to the Superior Court at least — probably beyond. Of course, the Senator’s political career cannot survive while all of this is sorted out.

The Orie corruption/forgery case will take at least a decade to run its course. It will probably involve multiple appealsbefore another trial can be conducted. A visit to the United States Supreme Court is not out of the question — the High Court decided a Pennsylvania double jeopardy case not too long ago. But there may never be a satisfactory answer regarding the provenance of the questioned documents.


No. 590


CLIFF TUTTLE has been a Pennsylvania lawyer for over 45 years and (inter alia) is a real estate litigator and legal writer. The posts in this blog are intended to provide general information about legal topics of interest to lawyers and consumers with a Pittsburgh and Western Pennsylvania focus. However, this information does not constitute legal advice and there is no lawyer-client relationship created when you read this blog. You are encouraged to leave comments but be aware that posted comments can be read by others. If you wish to contact me in privacy, please use the Contact Form located immediately below this message. I will reply promptly and in strict confidence.

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