Following the lead of the U.S. Supreme Court, a panel of judges from the 9th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals has thrown out evidence that federal prosecutors hoped would prove that former Rep. Bruce Weyhrauch violated his duty to Alaskans.
The decision Monday by the three-member appellate court panel in San Francisco stopped short of outright dismissal of the felony charge of honest services fraud against Weyhrauch, a Juneau Republican, but it will make it more difficult, if not impossible, for federal prosecutors to prove. They have not yet said whether they will still pursue that charge, one of four counts Weyhrauch is facing.
Prosecutors had sought to tell the jury that Weyhrauch, a lawyer, had a duty to disclose during the 2006 legislative session that he was asking the oil-field service company Veco for legal work at a time when the company was actively lobbying the Legislature on oil taxes.
Just days before Weyhrauch's trial was to begin in 2007, U.S. District Court Judge John Sedwick told prosecutors they couldn't introduce that evidence because there was no specific state law requiring disclosure. Prosecutors appealed to the 9th Circuit, which initially overruled Sedwick. But in a similar case earlier this year, the Supreme Court drastically limited the scope of the honest services fraud law under which Weyhrauch was charged.
Citing that decision, the appellate judges said that "nondisclosure of a conflict of interest is no longer a basis for prosecution" and remanded the case back to Sedwick, affirming his 2007 ruling.
Sedwick had hoped to begin Weyhrauch's trial Sept. 13, but the delays caused by the case moving back and forth through the appellate system set the case back indefinitely.
Find Richard Mauer online at adn.com/contact/rmauer or call 257-4345.
By RICHARD MAUER