Judge in Craig Case Not Expected To Rule Until Late Next Week
A judge considering Idaho Sen. Larry Craig's request to withdraw his guilty plea in an airport sex sting said Wednesday he probably wouldn't rule in the case until late next week, well past Craig's self-imposed deadline to resign. Hennepin County Judge Charles Porter heard arguments from Craig's attorneys and the prosecutor in the case, then said he wouldn't rule immediately. Craig said earlier he planned to resign Sept. 30, then left the door open to stay if he could successfully withdraw his plea. After the hearing, Craig's lead attorney Billy Martin declined to address whether Craig would resign. He said the senator planned a statement later Wednesday from Washington. During the hearing, Martin acknowledged the difficulty in getting the plea withdrawn, saying it is "near impossible, and it should be." But he said Craig's conduct was not criminal. Prosecutor Christopher Renz said the timing of Craig's decision to withdraw his guilty plea was political. Craig was arrested in a Minneapolis airport bathroom June 11, then entered his plea Aug. 8. Craig said he panicked in entering his plea. "He sat and was able to think about it a thousand miles away at his apartment on the Potomac. He called me about it" and could have called others if he needed advice, Renz said. Craig did not attend the hearing.Legal observers said Craig faced a tough fight in convincing the court to allow him to withdraw his guilty plea on a misdemeanor disorderly conduct charge. Minnesota law allows pleas to be withdrawn if a "manifest injustice" is shown. The term isn't defined in law, leaving it to judges to decide. Craig was arrested by an airport police officer who said Craig had looked into his bathroom stall, and tapped his foot and moved his hand under the divider in a way that suggested he was looking for a sexual partner. After news of his arrest and plea broke Aug. 27, he came under swift pressure from within his own party, and announced within days that he planned to resign by Sept. 30. He later suggested he might stay in office if he could overturn his plea. His attorneys pursued a dual strategy, arguing both that Craig's conduct was not criminal and that the state didn't handle the plea properly. Martin said Craig maintains he never intentionally touched airport police Sgt. Dave Karsnia, nor said anything to him. "You should have either touching, or words, or a combination of the two," Martin said. "I don't know," interjected Porter, and speculated that if he charged around the bench and ran yelling toward Martin, it would scare the attorney."It absolutely would," Martin said, to mild laughter. Craig's attorneys also argued that the legal process wasn't properly followed, noting the plea petition didn't include a signature or any other indication a judge had accepted it. Porter directed more questions to Craig's attorneys, but his interruptions were mild and polite. Pat Hogan, a spokesman for the Metropolitan Airports Commission and the prosecution team, said after the hearing that Craig knew what he was doing when he pleaded guilty and accepted culpability for his actions. He pointed out that Craig had more than eight weeks to consider his legal options from when he was arrested to when he entered his plea. "The defendant unequivocally pleaded guilty to the crime of disorderly conduct," Hogan said. Martin told reporters afterward that Craig committed no crime, but made a mistake in pleading guilty to one. "Senator Larry Craig denies that he went into that restroom for anything other than to go to the restroom," he said. Martin said that if the judge allows Craig to withdraw his plea, he will enter a not-guilty plea and ask a jury to decide. Martin also said there was nothing unusual about Craig staying in Washington instead of attending the hearing. The attorney said it's rare for him to bring a client to such proceedings.