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TRAFICANT CASE Experts question criticism of judge



Published: Sat, April 20, 2002 @ 12:00 a.m.



The convicted congressman will be interviewed on a national TV talk show.

By DAVID SKOLNICK

VINDICATOR POLITICS WRITER

YOUNGSTOWN -- U.S. District Court Judge Lesley Brooks Wells probably isn't thrilled with U.S. Rep. James A. Traficant Jr.'s constant criticism of her, but it shouldn't play a factor when she sentences him in June, according to legal experts.

"I would think she'd be professional enough to ignore it," said Lewis R. Katz, a 37-year law professor at Case Western Reserve University in Cleveland. "She stayed above it during the trial and she will probably do the same during the sentencing."

Roger Synenberg, a prominent Cleveland defense attorney and a former federal prosecutor, agrees.

"I think she's too much of a professional to allow that to impact her ruling," he said. "She's a pro, and I don't think what he says really matters to her."

But at his sentencing, Traficant can forget about any claim of remorse, Katz said. Acceptance of responsibility reduces a person's sentencing guidelines by three levels, which could be as much as a couple of years in some cases, Synenberg said.

"It is difficult after going to trial and losing to get the reduction," Synenberg said. "In this case, he's even less likely to get the benefit of it."

Traficant, a Poland Democrat, was found guilty last week by a federal jury on 10 felony counts, including bribery, racketeering and tax evasion. Traficant, a nine-term congressman, will be sentenced June 27 and likely faces four to six years in a federal penitentiary. He plans to appeal the decision.

Criticism

During and after the trial, Traficant criticized how Judge Wells handled his case, saying she refused to allow him to introduce evidence, refused to let his witnesses testify and favored the prosecution.

Jurors said Judge Wells showed amazing restraint with Traficant, who tried to provoke her.

Traficant has kept up his criticism of how his case was handled, even though Judge Wells holds his fate in her hands.

In a profanity-laced appearance earlier this week on Y-103 FM's morning show, Traficant complained about the jury, the judge and Democratic leadership in Washington.

Traficant is taping an interview in the Mahoning Valley today with Fox News Channel's Greta Van Susteren for her "On the Record" program. The interview will air in three 20-minute segments Monday through Wednesday. The show begins at 10 p.m. It will be Traficant's first national interview since his conviction.

Also, Traficant will be back on Y-103's morning show Wednesday and says he is bringing along some of his witnesses who weren't allowed to testify or who had restricted testimony to discuss the case.

Although the media appearances won't affect the judge's ruling, Katz still questions why Traficant would attempt to incur the wrath of Judge Wells.

"It never is wise to do this, but your view and my view of wisdom is different than his," he said.

On the air

Scott Kennedy, Y-103's program director and morning show host, said he does not know what to expect when Traficant returns.

But one thing will definitely be different, he said. The use of profanity, which the congressman used extensively during his Tuesday appearance, will not make the airwaves again, Kennedy said.

The station does not have a delay system for in-studio guests, but will have one Wednesday, Kennedy said.

"We've had comedians in, and there's never been a problem," he said. "With Jim Traficant, we should have anticipated something. We will have something in place for Jim Traficant."

After Tuesday's broadcast, Kennedy said he told Traficant to watch his language in the future.

Even though Traficant said he would take over next week's show, Kennedy said the morning crew will be on the air with the congressman.

When Traficant did a stint as a guest host on WKBN-AM radio's morning show last year, shortly after being indicted, he was met the first day he appeared by a few dozen protesters. That wasn't the case this week at Y-103.

Kennedy said there is no reason to criticize his station's decision to have Traficant on the show because the appearance was for entertainment purposes only.

"It's a classic rock station, not a news station," he said. "I don't look at it as giving Jim Traficant a forum. It's someone our audience is interested in hearing. People love him or they hate him. We've never had a guest on who brings out such raw emotions. People are interested in what he has to say, whether or not they support him. If I could get O.J. Simpson on the air, I would. Any news organization who had the opportunity to get Osama bin Laden on the air would do it."

But if Y-103 was a news station, Kennedy might think differently of putting Traficant on the air.

"He does make for compelling radio," he said.

Choice of stations

Bill Kelly, vice president and marketing manager for Clear Channel Radio Youngstown, which owns WKBN-AM, declined to comment as to whether his news station would be willing to put Traficant back on the air.

"I never comment on programming or philosophies," he said.

In somewhat of a surprise, considering Traficant's relationship with Clear Channel's WKBN and WTAM in Cleveland, Y-103, owned by Cumulus Broadcasting, landed the first public appearance of Traficant through the efforts of John Batcho, known as "Mr. Sports," one of the morning show co-hosts, Kennedy said.

"He made a lot of phone calls and he knows a lot of people in Traficant's camp," Kennedy said of Batcho. "Much to our surprise, Traficant said he'd do it. I was surprised he came in."




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