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Archive for Saturday, November 6, 2004

Westar exec’s attorney accuses prosecutor of courtroom threats

November 6, 2004

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— A defense attorney representing a former Westar Energy Inc. executive in a federal fraud trial accused a prosecutor of threatening him.

Ed Little, an attorney for former Westar executive vice president Douglas T. Lake, made the statement Friday to U.S. District Judge Julie Robinson while the jury was out of the courtroom.

Lake and Westar's former chief executive, David Wittig, are accused of "looting" the Topeka-based company, Kansas' largest electric utility. Each faces 40 counts and a minimum of 10 years in prison, if convicted.

Little's comments about Assistant U.S. Atty. Richard Hathaway came during a debate about the admissibility of a slide show featuring a European trip Lake and Wittig made in 2000. Little contended defense attorneys were surprised that prosecutors wanted to present the slide show as evidence. Hathaway then stood up to speak, cutting off Little.

Little then asked Robinson if Hathaway "could sit down and not stand there in a threatening manner."

Little went further: "He's threatened me outside the courtroom, and he's threatening me now."

Hathaway told Robinson the claims were not true and demanded Little provide an affidavit to Hathaway's superior about the alleged threat.

Outside the courtroom, Little declined to elaborate on his allegation.

Inside the courtroom, Little also exchanged words with the judge about who was being interrupted more: her or him.

"I rule, I get interrupted, I rule, I get interrupted," Robinson said.

It was not the first heated exchange between Robinson and Little. On Oct. 27, Little accused Robinson of favoring the prosecution in her rulings. He reiterated that belief Friday.

"I would like some evenhandedness in this court," Little said.

Robinson ruled that prosecutors could present the slide show to illustrate what they contend was a lavish European trip made by Wittig and Lake in the spring of 2000. The slide show included marketing information, such as pictures of hotels and restaurants that the Westar executives visited.

"You don't download promotional pictures from a Web site and stick them in evidence," Little had argued, adding that the material would prejudice the jury.

But Robinson allowed prosecutors to present the slide show after warning the jury about the promotional pictures.

The trial began Oct. 19 and is expected to last 10 weeks.

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