Judge in Craig case says no quick ruling on plea requestby Elizabeth Stawicki, Minnesota Public Radio
An attorney for Idaho Sen. Larry Craig asked a Hennepin County judge to throw out the Senator's guilty plea in connection with an arrest at the Minneapolis airport last June. Billy Martin said Craig's actions did not constitute a crime, therefore any guilty plea was invalid.
Craig announced that he intends to resign from the Senate on September 30, but a spokesman has said there is a slight chance he may keep his seat if he can withdraw his plea.
Edina, Minn. — Sen. Craig released a statement saying that the hearing in the Edina courthouse was a major step in the legal effort to clear his name. That statement came two hours after Craig's attorney asked Judge Charles Porter to withdraw the Senator's guilty plea.
Defense attorney Billy Martin said he had a uphill battle because pleas are supposed to be final, but he said Craig's actions simply didn't constitute a crime. He said looking into a stall, foot and hand gestures aren't criminal.
But the state's prosecutor Chris Renz told the judge that in combination, those actions do fit the crime of disorderly conduct. He said Craig peered into the stall for two minutes and repeatedly ran his hand under the stall divider.
After the hearing, Billy Martin said Craig's actions simply weren't criminal.
"The conduct of looking into bathroom stalls to see if there was anybody in there, of going to another stall, of tapping one's foot, while they may be consistent with what the officer says is behavior he recognizes, Senator Larry Craig denies that he went into that restroom for anything other than to go to the restroom," Martin said.
A spokesman for the Metropolitan Airports Commission made comments on behalf of prosecutor Chris Renz. Pat Hogan said Craig unequivocally pleaded guilty to the crime of disorderly conduct.
"The plea was made voluntarily, accurately and intelligently," Hogan said. "And pleading guilty to the charge, (he) accepted responsibility for his actions in a restroom at the Minneapolis-St. Paul International Airport."
But regardless of the outcome, one political expert in Idaho says many of the state's residents are upset with Craig's judgment. Boise state professor James Weatherby says some Idahoans really don't care whether the judge throws out Craig's guilty plea.
"He had two months to make a decision. He didn't consult an attorney. He said in his pleadings he was in a state of fear and panic," Weatherby said. "And there are people who feel that a person who exhibits poor judgment like that and cowers against a charge like that should not serve in the United States Senate."
Judge Porter asked defense attorney Billy Martin quite a few questions, even interrupted him at times. At one point, Martin said he wasn't asking the court to find Craig guilty or innocent and Porter interjected that in Minnesota, defendants aren't guilty or innocent, they're guilty or not guilty.
Judge Porter took the issue under advisement and said that given his court schedule he would not be able to rule until the end of next week. Craig said earlier he planned to resign September 30, then left the door open to stay if he could successfully withdraw his plea.
- All Things Considered, 09/26/2007, 5:20 p.m.