Archive for Wednesday, January 5, 2005

Court date set in event of second trial for Wittig

Judge warns defense attorneys about behavior

January 5, 2005


— A second trial of former Westar Energy Inc. executives David Wittig and Douglas T. Lake will begin May 9 should prosecutors decide to retry the pair on charges accusing them of trying to loot the company.

Last month, U.S. District Judge Julie Robinson declared a mistrial after a jury in Kansas City, Kan., failed to reach a verdict on more than half of the 40 counts of conspiracy, wire fraud and circumventing internal corporate controls faced by the former executives.

Assistant U.S. Atty. Rich Hathaway said Tuesday that "no final decision has been made" on whether to retry the case.

Wittig, of Topeka, is the company's former chief executive, and Lake, of New Canaan, Conn., is its former executive vice president. Both have denied wrongdoing, saying their actions were approved by company officials and disclosed in public filings.

Robinson set the new trial date during a Tuesday hearing, at which she admonished defense attorneys for their behavior during the first trial and said she would issue an order to prevent a recurrence of what she described as their offensive conduct.

She said they had been disrespectful and that jurors told her they noticed.

"I subjected myself to horrendous behavior the last time around," Robinson said. She warned the attorneys that she would not hesitate to declare them in contempt and remove them from the courtroom at a second trial.

She also said she would station a federal marshal closer to the defense table. She also ordered Hathaway and Edward Little, Lake's lead attorney, to have no direct contact inside or outside the courtroom.

After Tuesday's hearing, both Little and Adam Hoffinger, Wittig's lead attorney, declined to respond to the judge's comments.

Prosecutors said Wittig and Lake used company planes for personal travel; pushed the company to invest in or buy companies in which they had personal interests; manipulated a proposed merger of the utility to bring themselves millions of dollars; abused an executive relocation program; and conferred with Westar's outside legal counsel to remove members of the board critical of their compensation.

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