Defense seeks trial delay in road contracting case

bmusgrave@herald-leader.comSeptember 19, 2008 

Defense lawyers want a federal judge to delay a November trial for three men accused of tampering with the bidding process for $130 million in state road contracts in 2006 and 2007.

Lawyers for top road contractor Leonard Lawson and a Lawson employee, Brian Billings, filed motions Thursday saying that they planned to file several motions — including motions to dismiss charges against their clients based on prosecutorial misconduct — that need to be heard before a Nov. 12 trial.

Lawson, former Transportation Secretary Bill Nighbert and Billings, were indicted earlier this month. All three have pleaded not guilty.

Lawson and Nighbert each face six different charges. Billings faces three separate obstruction of justice charges.

Howard Mann, a lawyer for Nighbert, said Thursday that he is also likely to file a motionin the next few days asking to delay the trial.

Lawson is accused of paying $20,000 in cash to a transportation employee for internal cabinet estimates on road projects in 2006 and 2007. Lawson is also accused of paying Nighbert through an employment contract with a Pikeville utility company after Nighbert left the Transportation Cabinet in December 2007. By obtaining internal cabinet information, Lawson was able to maximize his profits on key road contracts, prosecutors say.

In court documents filed Thursday, Larry Mackey, an attorney for Lawson, said Lawson intendeds to file several pretrial motions including a motion to dismiss the indictment because of prosecutorial misconduct. Mackey and other defense attorneys have questioned why details of the grand jury investigation were made public before the three men were indicted Sept. 3. An affidavit by FBI Special Agent Clay Mason, which gave details of the investigation, was filed in federal court in London in August as part of a request for a search warrant and later became public.

Mackey also says in the motion that he will ask that some counts against his client be dismissed and that the trial be moved from Frankfort.

It is likely that there will be hearings on those motions, making a November trial date impossible, Mackey said in court documents.

Kent Wicker, a lawyer for Billings, said in a separate motion that the indictment alleges two different conspiracies and that defense attorneys will need additional time to investigate the charges against their clients.

Assistant U.S. Attorney Ken Taylor said Thursday that he had expected defense motions to delay the trial, but he declined to comment further.

Taylor filed a motion Wednesday asking a judge to require defense attorneys to return some audio recordings of key witness James Rummage talking to an attorney who had done work for Lawson in the past. The tapes include a segment from a March conversation in which investigators were talking to Rummage. That information, Taylor said in court documents, should not have been released. The motion also asks for a hearing before a federal judge.

Mackey is asking for a trial date on or after April 1.

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