Capt. Joe Hazelwood, who showed up in an Anchorage courtroom Wednesday to answer misdemeanor charges associated with the Valdez oil spill, listened without expression as a prosecutor revealed that the case against him is being presented to a grand jury for possible felony indictment.
Flanked by four lawyers, the former master of the Exxon Valdez filed a formal waiver of extradition and said nothing while Fairbanks attorney Dick Madson entered not guilty pleas on his behalf.
Hazelwood is accused of operating a watercraft while intoxicated, reckless endangerment and negligent discharge of oil, all misdemeanor charges stemming from the March 24 grounding of the Exxon Valdez, which dumped more than 10 million gallons of North Slope crude oil into Prince William Sound.
District Court Judge David Stewart set bail at $50,000 and ordered Hazelwood to surrender his passport within 48 hours.
Later in the day, Hazelwood posted bail after being booked at the Cook Inlet Pretrial Facility. He is free to leave the state until his trial, which is tentatively set for next month in Valdez, and was expected to do so.
Assistant District Attorney Mary Anne Henry agreed to defense requests that Hazelwood not have to appear for pre trial hearings, but at her request, Stewart ordered him to show up again "if the grand jury hands down an indictment."
Misdemeanor charges do not require grand jury indictment; felonies do.
Henry objected to a defense request that bail be set at $25,000, the amount Hazelwood posted in New York last month after surrendering on an Alaska fugitive warrant. Madson pointed out that his client waived extradition from New York and has appeared voluntarily at each step of the proceedings against him.
"As far as this case is concerned, $25,000 is a great deal of money," Madson said. But Stewart left bail at $50,000, citing "the magnitude" of the case.
The judge offered Hazelwood a choice of trial call dates, either next week or next month.
"You ready for next Monday, Mr. Madson?" Stewart asked.
"Hardly, your honor, hardly," Madson replied.
If a felony is added to the charges against Hazelwood, his trial will almost certainly be postponed for several months.
The 10 minute hearing may have been the most elaborate misdemeanor arraignment in history. Concerned about the hostility many Alaskans feel toward Hazelwood, Alaska State Troopers searched the large media courtroom before admitting anyone, checking under tables and spectator seats to make sure no one had concealed anything lethal there ahead of time.
The large courtroom was nearly filled with reporters, curious court personnel, other lawyers and a scattering of the general public. Taping crews and photographers, including three separate crews working for CBS Television, filled the jury box.
"When he was in Valdez, everyone missed him, so they really want this video," said reporter Karrie Bohi.
In addition to Madson, New York attorneys Michael Chalos and Tom Russo and Anchorage attorney Dan Dennis appeared with Hazelwood.
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