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Craig’s Lawyer Argues Before Appeals Court

Correction Appended

ST. PAUL, Minn. — Sen. Larry Craig’s (R-Idaho) attorneys made one more attempt to clear his name after his criminal conviction last year in a sex-sting operation at the Minneapolis airport.

Craig’s lawyer, D.C. attorney Billy Martin, told the Minnesota Court of Appeals that Craig should be allowed to withdraw his guilty plea because the evidence neither supported nor refuted Craig’s guilt.

“What we are challenging is insufficiency of evidence,” Martin told the three-judge panel.

Craig, who is retiring at the end of the this Congress, did not appear in the courtroom.

Martin said Craig’s behavior in the bathroom — looking through the crack in the stall and fidgeting with his hands — was consistent with the behavior of someone who was anxious and had to use the bathroom.

Craig was arrested in the airport on June 11, 2007, and denied to the arresting officer that he had been soliciting sex.

Two months later, he pleaded guilty to a misdemeanor charge, apparently hoping that the news of the arrest would not be noticed by the press or the public.

After Roll Call broke the story in August 2007, Craig tried to reverse the charges and enter a not guilty plea.

In October 2007, the Hennepin County District Court ruled that Craig could not change his plea. That ruling prompted Wednesday’s appeal.

The appeals court has 90 days in which to issue its ruling, which means the decision will come while Craig is still in the Senate.

Martin’s arguments before the appeals court were essentially the same as those rejected last year by Minnesota District Court Judge Charles Porter.

Martin said Craig’s actions in the men’s room were misinterpreted by the undercover officer who arrested him. The officer, in a detailed arrest report, noted that Craig had looked inside the adjoining stall, tapped his foot next to his and swiped his hand underneath the divider.

“That isn’t disorderly conduct,” Martin said, “That is communication.”

Martin also said it was not clear that the mail-in guilty plea was legally sufficient.

“We should not be sitting here wondering” whether the judge looked at the complaint, Martin said. “We don’t know. We don’t know what facts are part of the record.”

State of Minnesota Attorney Christopher Renz responded, “The lack of signature does not mean lack of review.”

Finally, Martin argued that under the statute, a disorderly conduct charge must affect more than one person.

“This case involving a United States Senator would be no different than if it was any average citizen,” Martin told reporters after the hearing. “Every citizen deserves the protection of our laws.”

Correction: Sept. 12, 2008

The article incorrectly stated that Sen. Larry Craig tried to enter a guilty plea after Roll Call broke the story of his arrest in 2007. Craig tried to change his plea to not guilty.