The congressman filed his motion a scant three days before the scheduled hearing.
By PATRICIA MEADE
VINDICATOR CRIME REPORTER
CLEVELAND -- It took a federal judge less than an hour to receive, consider and reject a request by indicted U.S. Rep. James A. Traficant Jr. to reset a hearing scheduled for Friday.
Without explanation, U.S. District Judge Lesley Brooks Wells denied the 17th District congressman's motion to reschedule the hearing and had her answer filed in the clerk of court office at 12:18 p.m. Tuesday. Traficant's motion was time-stamped at 11:22 a.m.
The date of the hearing, a status conference to discuss any pre-trial issues, was set May 23. The 60-year-old Poland Democrat was arraigned May 11 on a 10-count indictment that includes racketeering, bribery and tax evasion charges. That same day, Traficant, who is not a lawyer, convinced the judge during a hearing that he fully understood the pitfalls of representing himself at his Feb. 4 trial.
Reasons: Traficant, in his motion, states that he is a member of Congress and "the aforesaid body shall be in session until mid-August." The congressman said he wants to be present at the sessions so that he might "render ample representation to his constituents."
He asked that the judge grant a 30-day postponement.
Earlier this month,Traficant had informally suggested that he might want to have the status conference reset and reportedly sent the judge a letter to that effect. Because the letter was not filed with the clerk of court or a copy sent to the government, the judge would not have seen it.
In response to the letter, Judge Wells' law clerk wrote to Traficant on July 5, reminding him that as a pro se defendant -- someone who acts as his own lawyer -- he cannot avoid compliance with the rules of procedure. The rules mandate that documents be filed with the clerk and copies be sent to all parties.
"The court cannot consider requests from you which do not comply with these rules," law clerk Maureen Jeffreys wrote. "If you wish to submit the request properly, it will be considered."
Although Traficant's motion was not filed until late Tuesday morning, a notation at the bottom shows he mailed a copy last Friday to Craig S. Morford, an assistant U.S. attorney. Morford, Bernard A. Smith and Matthew B. Kall are the federal prosecutors assigned to the congressman's case.
Also last Friday, prosecutors filed 233 documents they intend to use as evidence at trial. Their accompanying motion suggests that if Traficant objects to any of the letters, memos, e-mails, press releases, Congressional Record and committee transcripts, he should make those objections known early and not delay the trial.
As a member of Congress, Traficant has immunity from statements he makes on the House floor or in committee meetings. The immunity extends to documents he introduces into the Congressional Record.
The government contends that the papers, obtained from third parties, not Traficant, show how he used his position to enrich himself through Youngstown-area businessmen. The congressman's office records were subpoenaed in December 1999. He withheld some on advice of the House General Counsel, without telling the government which papers he did not turn over.