Timing for Renzi Case Uncertain

Posted February 8, 2010 at 5:27pm

Attorneys for ex-Rep. Rick Renzi (R-Ariz.) and his co-defendants are scheduled to appear in court Friday for a status hearing, with a host of legal issues still unresolved a month ahead of the latest trial date.

Renzi is charged in a 48-count indictment that alleges the former Member used his legislative position to push a land deal to benefit a former business partner and also embezzled money from his insurance firm to finance his first campaign.

According to court documents, federal prosecutors and defense attorneys for Renzi and his co-defendants will hold a status hearing Friday in the U.S. District Court for the District of Arizona, and some of those involved will participate via telephone.

Although Renzi and his co-defendants are scheduled to go on trial March 16, it remains to be seen whether the case could once again be postponed given the number of outstanding pretrial motions, including on disputes over whether the government evidence-gathering in the case violated the Constitution’s Speech or Debate Clause, which protects lawmakers from prosecution for legislative activity.

District Judge David Bury has previously postponed the trial — originally slated to begin in April 2008 — a half-dozen times at the request of both federal prosecutors and Renzi and his co-defendants.

Federal prosecutors first indicted the Arizona lawmaker in February 2008, and they added additional charges in a supplemental indictment in November 2008 and again in September 2009.

According to a December memorandum filed by Renzi’s defense team, alleged Speech or Debate Clause violations are central to at least five unresolved motions including Renzi’s request to dismiss the indictment, as well as to suppress evidence gathered when federal prosecutors tapped the then-lawmaker’s cell phone.

Renzi’s defense also listed more than a half-dozen other pending motions that call for dismissing the full indictment or individual charges.

In addition, the court must determine whether to split the trial into three separate hearings, as U.S. Magistrate Judge Bernardo Velasco ordered in December.

In a December ruling, Velasco ruled that the indictments should be split into separate hearings focusing on the alleged land deal, the embezzlement charges and a falsified campaign contribution, respectively. Only the first two trials would involve Renzi.