Judge Delays Cunningham Discovery

Posted October 18, 2005 at 5:39pm

A federal judge in California has granted a government motion to stay civil forfeiture proceedings against Rep. Duke Cunningham (R-Calif.) while the Justice Department prepares to file criminal charges in its probe of the GOP lawmaker.

In a decision handed down Friday, U.S. District Judge Dana Sabraw ruled that granting “discovery” to Cunningham and his attorneys could jeopardize the DOJ’s criminal case against the lawmaker, and thus forbid it from taking place.

The government had initiated forfeiture proceedings against Cunningham to make sure that he did not sell his home in Rancho Santa Fe, Calif., which federal prosecutors allege was partly financed by Cunningham using a bribe from a defense contractor who bought Cunningham’s previous home. Cunningham has strongly denied that assertion, and his legal team worked to lift a type of lien, called a notice of lis pendens, against the Rancho Santa Fe home so that he could sell it. Sabraw agreed to that request recently, although the net proceeds from the sale must be placed in an escrow account as prosecutors prepare to charge Cunningham.

Officials in the U.S. Attorney’s office for the Southern District of California argued that Cunningham’s lawyers could use the discovery process in the forfeiture case to uncover information from the criminal probe, and Sabraw agreed with their argument. “Specifically, the Government has shown that discovery in this civil proceeding would compromise the ongoing criminal investigation,” Sabraw wrote.

Sabraw, though, would only agree to a two-month stay. Prosecutors had been seeking no deadline, although federal officials can seek an extension of the deadline she set.