Deadline looms for rep to file allegations against prosecutor
The federal judge also wants the congressman to cite the laws that he contends should force her to reschedule hearings if Congress is in session.
By PATRICIA MEADE
VINDICATOR CRIME REPORTER
YOUNGSTOWN -- Time's running out for U.S. Rep. James A. Traficant Jr. to tell a federal judge bad things about the prosecutor on his case.
The indicted 17th District congressman has until Monday to file a motion that puts into writing his earlier oral allegation that Craig S. Morford, an assistant U.S. attorney, is guilty of prosecutorial misconduct.
Morford will have until Aug. 28 to respond.
At Traficant's status conference July 20 in Cleveland, U.S. District Judge Lesley Brooks Wells set Monday's deadline. The business of the conference was to set upcoming hearing and motion dates leading up to his Feb. 4, 2002 trial on racketeering, bribery and tax evasion charges.
As of 4:30 p.m. Friday, nothing was filed at the clerk's office in Cleveland or with the federal court in Youngstown, where he maintains a district office.
If the 60-year-old Poland Democrat mailed the documents and they arrived today in Cleveland, they would not be filed until Monday when the clerk's office reopens.
Implications: At the July 20 conference, Traficant alleged the prosecutorial misconduct and said he intends to call Morford as a witness at trial. The evidence, Traficant said, relates to one witness, whom he would not name.
If Morford is a witness, it would preclude him from prosecuting the case, and another prosecutor would have to be chosen. With that prospect in mind, he asked the judge to consider holding a hearing soon.
Although not a lawyer, Traficant is defending himself.
Judge Wells also wants Traficant to file a brief that outlines his previous challenge to her refusal to reschedule the July 20 conference.
Cited congressional session: He had first asked to participate in the hearing by phone from Washington, D.C. Then he asked that she reschedule it because Congress was in session.
He said her refusal to grant a continuance violates the speech and debate and separation of powers clauses in the Constitution and his right under the Sixth Amendment to be represented -- in this case by himself -- at each critical stage of his case.
The judge, in a written order issued just hours before the July 20 conference, said his desire to attend a session of Congress wasn't sufficient reason to treat him differently from any other defendant.
Now Judge Wells wants Traficant to state -- by Monday and "with specificity" -- the principles that he contends require a federal court to excuse him whenever Congress is in session. She also wants him to cite the laws he believes apply.
As with the prosecutorial misconduct motion, Morford has until Aug. 28 to respond to Traficant's brief.
Morford, at the July 20 status conference, suggested that if Traficant would hire an attorney, the attorney could prepare for trial and Traficant could carry on as a congressman. The federal prosecutor accused Traficant of using a "congressional shield" to delay court proceedings.
Will testify: This past week added another prominent businessman to the growing list of prosecution witnesses set to testify against Traficant.
James R. Sabatine, 49, of Canfield pleaded guilty to, among other things, giving the congressman a $2,400 bribe in 1998. At the time, Sabatine owned Hardrives Paving and Construction Inc. of Mineral Ridge and wanted Traficant to use his influence to secure a rail line for the company's asphalt plant in Youngstown.
Sabatine joins A. David Sugar of Honey Creek Contracting in New Middletown and multimillionaire J.J. Cafaro of Liberty, whose family develops shopping malls, both of whom pleaded guilty in the case against the ninth-term congressman.
The Sabatine bribe is not in Traficant's original indictment, but may appear in a superseding indictment. In anticipation of a revised indictment, Traficant told Judge Wells on July 20 that he would ask that the trial be reset.
The judge said she's not sure she would grant such a request because there are other cases in her court, just as important as his, scheduled after his in February. His case is expected to last eight weeks.
"You can't just sit around and do nothing and expect the court will be able to move the trial," she said at the status conference.