In each of John Bujak's four previous criminal trials, he chose to argue his own case but had the help of taxpayer-funded lawyers.
In U.S. District Court Thursday, the former Canyon County prosecutor sought to continue that pattern while fighting new federal charges including bankruptcy fraud. But U.S. District Judge Edward Lodge, who repeatedly advised Bujak not to represent himself, flatly rejected the idea of letting him keep his previously appointed public defenders as standby counsel.
Bujak, now a Libertarian candidate for governor, is set to go on trial May 6 on six felony charges that potentially carry long prison terms up to 20 years if served concurrently, much more if consecutive and hefty fines. The charges stem from allegations that Bujak concealed the sale of a Rolex watch during his bankruptcy proceedings several years ago.
Previously charged in state court with grand theft, misuse of public funds and related felonies, Bujak successfully defended himself In 2011 and 2012 without a guilty verdict. In each of those cases he shared the defense table with standby counsel.
Before he addressed the latest standby request, Lodge told Bujak that a decision to represent himself means "you're on your own." And the judge stressed that rules in his courtroom would require Bujak to separate his roles as lawyer and defendant, asking himself questions and then answering them.
Federal public defender Dick Rubin urged Lodge to reconsider, saying that if Bujak takes the stand in his own defense it would be better if standby counsel handled the questioning rather than risk confusing jurors with the defendants dual role.
"That's why I specifically asked about it" before granting Bujaks request for self-representation, Lodge replied, adding that he granted Rubins request to be removed from the case so Bujak could take over.
Rubin said pretrial rules would need to be changed so Bujak as lawyer could talk to prosecution witnesses, which include his ex-wife and former in-laws, whom he is not allowed to contact as defendant.
Bujak said he wants to represent himself because he knows the facts better than anyone else, and his years of courtroom experience prepared him for the task.
He said he respects Lodge's decision and noted that one likely reason why state judges agreed to backup defenders in his previous trials is that an Idaho Supreme Court ruling encourages standby attorneys for defendants who represent themselves in state court.
"People rarely represent themselves in federal court," Bujak said.
Bujak, who resigned as Canyon County prosecutor in September 2010 amid allegations he unlawfully kept several hundred thousand dollars from a contract to use county resources to prosecute Nampa misdemeanors, has spent most of the past 3 1/2 years fighting criminal charges. He was tried twice (one hung jury, one acquittal) on charges of misusing public funds, got a second hung jury on false-evidence charges and was found not guilty of grand theft in a case related to his handling of a case before he became county prosecutor in 2009.
In January, a federal grand jury indicted Bujak on felony charges of bankruptcy fraud, concealment of assets, making a false statement under oath, money laundering and obstruction of justice.
Kristin Rodine: 377-6447