Minneapolis — Sen. Larry Craig, R-Idaho, filed a notice the morning of Monday, Oct. 15 with the Minnesota Court of Appeals that he will appeal a lower court decision that upheld his guilty plea to disorderly conduct.
Craig pleaded guilty to the crime after his June 11 arrest in the Minneapolis airport on charges he solicited sex from an undercover police officer. Later, he filed an appeal, seeking to withdraw his guilty plea. On Oct. 4, a Minnesota judge turned down Craig’s attempt to overturn the plea, saying that Craig’s claim that he didn’t know what he was doing when he pleaded guilty to disorderly conduct was “illogical.” Craig’s filing with the Minnesota Court of Appeals is the first step in a lengthy legal process.
Craig’s appeal was filed at the court in St. Paul less than two weeks after Hennepin County Judge Charles Porter refused to overturn the guilty plea, saying it “was accurate, voluntary and intelligent, and … supported by the evidence.”
The four-page filing did not detail the basis for the appeal.
Craig’s lawyers must first order and file a transcript of his Sept. 26 hearing.
Once that has been filed, his lawyers have 60 days to file a brief outlining his appeal. Then, prosecutors have 45 days to file their response to his appeal. Once those are filed, the court sets a date for oral arguments — which often occurs about six to eight months later.
Ninety days after the oral arguments, the judge will issue a decision.
Billy Martin, the lead attorney representing Craig told the Idaho Statesman the senator has maintained his innocence from the outset.
"Senator Craig has a right to appeal and we believe that it was a manifest injustice not to allow Senator Craig to withdraw his guilty plea entered in August," Martin said. “Like every other citizen, Senator Craig has the constitutional right to make every effort to clear his name. Senator Craig is hopeful that the Court of Appeals, after reviewing our arguments, will reverse or vacate Judge Porter’s decision denying his motion.”
In an interview Oct. 14 with KTVB-TV in Boise, Idaho, Craig repeated that he will not resign his post in the Senate and said he had the right to pursue his legal options.
“It is my right to do what I’m doing,” said Craig. “I’ve already provided for Idaho certainty that Idaho needed — I’m not running for re-election. I’m no longer in the way. I am pursuing my constitutional rights.”
"What’s the likelihood of success? Even less likely of prevailing in the appeal than he had in prevailing before Porter,” Steve Simon, a legal defense expert at the University of Minnesota Law School, told the Associated Press.
The appeals court must find there’s been an “abuse of discretion” by the trial judge before overturning a ruling — in other words, that some aspect of the ruling was decided improperly. Ron Meshbesher, a longtime Minneapolis defense attorney, said earlier this month that the standard for an abuse of discretion is vague but that such a ruling is fairly rare.
“It’s not frequent, let’s put it that way,” Meshbesher said. “It certainly is a steep hill to climb.”
It would most likely be well into 2008 before the Court of Appeals rules on the case. The process by which both sides prepare their legal briefs alone usually stretches to more than 100 days.
A heavy caseload at the Court of Appeals has slowed down both the scheduling of oral arguments and the release of rulings, according to court spokesman John Kostouros. It has been taking at least three months after briefs are filed for arguments to be scheduled, he said, and at least another three months before a decision is reached.
Craig’s Senate term ends at the end of 2008.