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Rostenkowski Seeks Dismissal of Charges

TIMES STAFF WRITER

In a legal maneuver that could delay the trial of Rep. Dan Rostenkowski (D-Ill.) until after the November elections, defense lawyers Friday challenged his indictment on corruption charges as an unconstitutional violation of the separation of powers doctrine.

Attorneys for Rostenkowski, former chairman of the House Ways and Means Committee, asked a federal court to dismiss the indictment or order a pretrial hearing on his constitutional claims.

Most of the charges against the once-powerful Chicago Democrat, his lawyers argued, are matters for the House to decide, since they allege violations of internal House rules.

Former U.S. Atty. Dan K. Webb, chief defense attorney for Rostenkowski, said the Constitution’s speech and debate clause protects members of Congress from being tried for conduct related to their legislative duties.

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U.S. Atty. Eric H. Holder Jr., chief prosecutor for the government, has until Sept. 2 to file a reply. U.S. Distict Judge Norma Holloway Johnson is expected to hear arguments in the case in mid-September before making a ruling on the motions. If she rules against Rostenkowski, his lawyers could appeal that decision to the U.S. Court of Appeals.

A 17-count indictment issued on May 31 accuses Rostenkowski of misappropriating more than $640,000 in federal funds for personal use through a series of schemes, including the hiring of “ghost employees” who were paid for work they did not do, converting office stamp funds into cash that was used for personal spending and buying gifts for friends and relatives with office funds.

The congressman has pleaded innocent and is running for reelection to a 19th term in Congress.

His former attorney, Robert S. Bennett, tried to negotiate a reduced plea. But Rostenkowski rejected the idea and hired Webb to mount an all-out fight against charges that threaten to end his career in disgrace.

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“This indictment totally destroys one of the basic precepts that supports our constitutional form of governance--separation of powers between the executive, judicial and legislative branches of our government,” Webb said.

“If allowed to stand, this indictment and any subsequent trial will compromise and erode the constitutionally vested right of Congress to make its own rules and discipline its own members.”

The defense team requested access to any material in the hands of the Justice Department that might help to clear Rostenkowski of the charges and asked for a detailed “bill of particulars” providing names of his alleged accomplices.


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