Originally created 09/23/04

Lawyers don't want Augustans on Walker jury



Federal prosecutors want to cull Augusta residents from the jury pool if Georgia Senate candidate Charles Walker and his daughter stand trial.

In documents filed Monday in U.S. District Court in Augusta that urge the judge to reject motions filed on behalf of Mr. Walker and Monique Walker Hill, federal prosecutors also presented a motion concerning jury selection.

"At this point, the trial is expected to involve approximately 150 witnesses (many of whom are Augusta-area residents) and to take approximately two to three weeks," prosecutors wrote.

Mr. Walker and Ms. Walker-Hill have pleaded innocent to the charges listed in a 142-count federal indictment.

Last month, defense attorneys filed motions contending the charges should be thrown out because, among other reasons, the prosecution was politically motivated and illegal.

Mr. Walker and his daughter are accused of bilking advertisers of his Augusta Focus newspaper and contributors to the CSRA Classic charity football event, and of filing false tax returns. Mr. Walker also is accused of mail fraud in his business dealings with hospitals in Atlanta and Augusta, and of using campaign contributions for personal use.

Included in the federal prosecutors' response to the defense motions are copies of dozens of Augusta newspaper articles published since the indictment was returned June 24.

They said media coverage, including that in the Augusta Focus, has been extensive. Worst, prosecutors wrote, is that it has often been inflammatory and prejudicial by including comments that allege the prosecution is politically and racially motivated.

"There have also been frivolous allegations that the government has prosecuted (Ms. Walker-Hill) as a means of getting at her father," prosecutors wrote.

Combining the media coverage with the prominence of Mr. Walker as an Augusta businessman and political figure involved in a fierce campaign makes it unlikely an impartial jury can be seated in Augusta, prosecutors wrote.

They asked either that Augusta residents be excluded from the jury pool or that the trial be moved to another division of the Southern District of Georgia.

The prosecutors also wrote that there is no credible evidence supporting the defense's contention that the case is politically motivated. Defense attorneys have noted that Mr. Walker's November opponent, state Sen. Don Cheeks, was interviewed and that former U.S. Attorney Rick Thompson was reprimanded for an ethical violation involving another political campaign.

But Mr. Cheeks wasn't Mr. Walker's opponent when FBI agents interviewed him, and Mr. Thompson didn't initiate the federal investigation - Assistant U.S. Attorney Richard Goolsby did in November 2002, prosecutors wrote.

They also dismissed the defense's contention that the criminal case is selective prosecution because no other Georgia official has been prosecuted for ethical violations, and no other newspaper owner has been prosecuted on allegations of inflating circulation numbers to increase ad revenues.

The legal standard for such an argument must compare apples to apples - others who did comparable deeds in the same manner, a similar number of times and in the same jurisdiction, prosecutors wrote.

"Of course, had defendants limited themselves to a comparison of cases in this district, they would have had to recognize and address the inconvenient fact that a former Republican legislator in this district (Robin Williams) was recently indicted for fraudulent activities ... some of which allegedly occurred while he was still a public figure," prosecutors wrote.

Now that motions have been filed by each side, the federal magistrate can rule based on the written documents alone, or he can schedule a hearing to listen to each side before issuing an opinion.

Reach Sandy Hodson at (706) 823-3226 or sandy.hodson@augustachronicle.com.

Charles Walker faces charges of fraud related to his business dealings in Atlanta and Augusta.