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Calmer Traficant demands tapes



Published: Sat, July 21, 2001 @ 12:00 a.m.



The congressman didn't bother to let the government know where to deliver 35 boxes of evidence that have been available since mid-June.

By PATRICIA MEADE

VINDICATOR CRIME REPORTER

CLEVELAND -- Indicted U.S. Rep. James A. Traficant Jr. swore only once during his 65-minute appearance in federal court here.

It may be a first for the 17th District congressman, whose press interviews always contain "bleep" gaps. He's also not above such language in court.

As he stood in U.S. District Court Friday afternoon -- in bell-bottom blue jeans and cream-colored sport coat -- he limited his quips, attempted civility, zeroed in on "prosecutorial misconduct" and demanded "fruits of electronic surveillance" for lab and forensic tests.

He more or less controlled his anger when Craig S. Morford, an assistant U.S. attorney, accused him of using a "congressional shield" to delay court proceedings. The Poland Democrat's trial on racketeering, bribery and tax evasion charges is Feb. 4.

Traficant -- who filed a flurry of motions via fax in an unsuccessful attempt to do a phone instead of in-person appearance -- drew rebukes from U.S. District Judge Lesley Brooks Wells about proper motion filing procedures, such as giving the other side a copy. He promised it won't happen again.

In denying his request, the judge wrote that Congress' being in session is not sufficient reason to treat him differently than anyone else.

Congressional duties: Nevertheless, Traficant hammered away in court at his congressional responsibilities and how important they are to his constituents.

Morford, after hearing once too often Traficant cite his critical congressional duties to question upcoming court dates, 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 said Traficant is creating the scheduling problems.

Traficant, a nonlawyer, leaned over the defense table and shot Morford a deadly look, saying, "I will defend myself against you."

This was where one of his quips popped up. "You had 149 victims, I mean 149 defendants," Traficant said, still looking at Morford. The calculated slip was a reference to Morford's unprecedented success in prosecuting Mahoning Valley corruption cases and a reference to Traficant's assertion that witnesses in his case have been coerced.

Boxes of evidence: Morford told the judge that 35 boxes of evidence to be used at trial were ready in mid-June for delivery to Traficant, but he never responded. Traficant launched into a long discussion over the number of boxes the government once said it had, 100, vs. the 35 now available.

The 100 was an estimate, Morford explained. Traficant said he wants "100 boxes" to be delivered to the U.S. District Court in Youngstown, where he maintains a district office.

The congressman brushed aside the importance of the boxed documents, many of which he will likely challenge because of speech and debate clause immunity provided to him in the Constitution, and focused on what he wants right now -- any audiotapes the government may use as evidence.

"I want the 100 boxes or the 70 or 30 or 20 or whatever the hell they have -- but I want the electronic surveillance items now," Traficant said. It was as rough as his language got.

The outburst interrupted what the judge was trying to say and it wasn't the first time.

"When you interrupt, you don't get by saying 'I don't mean to interrupt,'" she said. He didn't heed the admonition.

Request for new date: The trial is expected to take eight weeks. Traficant said if there's a superseding indictment, as he's hearing, 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 February.

"You can't just sit around and do nothing and expect the court will be able to move the trial," she said. The judge also expressed concern that he hadn't bothered to get the boxed evidence.

Decorum motion: The business of the status conference, which set upcoming hearing and motion dates, included a surprise from Morford, who said he intends to file a motion dealing with "courtroom decorum." He said such action is important because the case will be tried before a jury.

Traficant's reputation is one of a flamboyant, outrageous orator, prone to crude language with a penchant for the f-word.

Morford based the need for the judge to set etiquette ground rules on his past experience with Traficant about a dozen years ago. It was then that Traficant lost a civil tax case, with Morford as one of the prosecutors.

The government proved that Traficant failed to report on his tax return $160,000 that he took from organized crime during his successful run for Mahoning County sheriff in 1980. Traficant, acting as his own lawyer, had won acquittal in the criminal case in 1983.

Morford said he would also file a motion to curb adverse pretrial publicity. He said Traficant continues to go on the radio and attack the government.

Another motion will deal with cross-examination of witnesses. Traficant has boasted that he was able to "testify" in his 1983 trial by the way he questioned witnesses.

Morford as a witness: Traficant had a bit of a surprise of his own, an allegation of prosecutorial misconduct against Morford. The congressman said he intends to call Morford as a witness.

Morford said a hearing should be held soon so that the court can render a decision. If Morford is a witness, it would preclude him from prosecuting the case and another prosecutor would have to be chosen.

Morford said if the congressman has evidence he should bring it forward. The congressman, the prosecutor said, has a pattern of saying he has affidavits and then doesn't produce the evidence.

Traficant said the evidence he has relates to one witness, whom he would not name.

The congressman, when asked how many seats he would require in the small gallery for friends or family said none.

"Good," the judge said. "More room for the public and press."

Earlier, Traficant asked if he could take his jacket off and started to remove it. The judge stopped him with her answer: "Usually people don't. We can open the window."

meade@vindy.com




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