The prosecution has suffered another setback in the federal investigation of Alaska public corruption, as the U.S. Supreme Court has agreed to hear the pre-trial appeal of the one defendant whose guilt has not been adjudicated.
The Supreme Court has announced that it has taken the case of ex-State Rep. Bruce Weyhrauch (R.-Juneau) to decide whether the prosecution needed to prove that he violated a duty of disclosure under state law in order to convict him of the federal crime of honest services fraud through the mail.
Federal prosecutors have alleged that Weyhrauch was seeking paid work as a lawyer from the oil-services titan VECO at the same time he was heavily involved in legislation fixing tax rates on the major oil producers in Alaska, who were VECO’s most important clients. The Department of Justice’s position is that Weyhrauch’s failure in 2006 to disclose his letter to VECO asking for work as an attorney while working with VECO on a bill on which VECO was lobbying hard deprived the public of Weyhrauch’s honest services as a legislator. Weyhrauch, by contrast, asserts that his failure to disclose is only a crime if state law required him to disclose and that state law imposed no such obligation.
The issue to be decided in the U.S. Supreme Court only relates to one count of a four-count indictment brought against the former legislator in May of 2007. The prosecution obviously considered the question important enough, however, to appeal the trial judge's ruling against the government on that issue just before the trial was set to begin. That interlocutory appeal kept Weyhrauch's trial from starting, and has sidetracked the case for almost two years.
Due to the government’s decision to make the pre-trial appeal, Weyhrauch’s case is the only one arising from the investigation in which there has been neither a trial nor a plea agreement. The decision by the U.S. Supreme Court to hear this appeal likely adds at least another six months before Weyhrauch’s case is finished.
The case has wound its way through the federal appellate system during the last 22 months. After District Court Judge John Sedwick ruled for the defense on the disclosure issue, the Ninth Circuit Court of Appeals reversed the trial judge's ruling, and the defense appealed the Ninth Circuit's decision to the Supreme Court.
It was a significant feat for Weyhrauch’s lawyers to even get the Supreme Court to take the case. The U.S. Supreme Court only takes a tiny fraction of the cases that are appealed to it. A big factor in the defense’s favor is that federal circuit courts of appeal around the country have decided this issue in different ways, and alleging such an “inter-circuit conflict” is one of the best ways to get a case in front of the highest court in the land.
This is a good place to note that I fished and picked up trash with Bruce Weyhrauch in the late 1980s. As suggested by other disclosures I have made on this blog, before the investigation started I had contacts of various significance over the years with various defendants in these cases. I watched a movie with Ted Stevens in the mid-1960s and watched more films and played poker with him in the mid-1970s, discussed politics with Pete Kott in the late 1990s, exchanged e-mails about Alaska fiscal policy with Vic Kohring in the late 1990s, interviewed Bill Weimar in the early 1970s, and talked about the practice of law and legal matters with Jim Clark in the late 1980s and late 1990s. In terms of lawyers involved in these cases, I sat around a cabin in the mid-1990s with Doug Pope, who has represented Bruce Weyhrauch and Bill Bobrick. During various periods in the late 1980s and early 1990s I worked at the Anchorage District Attorney's Office with Acting U.S. Attorney Karen Loeffler as well as with Paul Stockler (attorney for Tom Anderson) and Kevin Fitzgerald (attorney for John Cowdery).
Hat tip: Erika Bolstad, Anchorage Daily News.