Bujak federal trial set to start

This time, the venue is federal, and the charges stem from the former Canyon County prosecutor's bankruptcy.

krodine@idahostatesman.comMay 6, 2014 

John Bujak

On Tuesday, John Bujak will be both defense attorney and defendant as a federal jury is selected and begins hearing evidence.

It's a familiar scenario - he stood trial in state court four times between November 2012 and March 2013 and emerged without a single guilty verdict - but there are significant differences this time.

Unlike in his state trials, where he also elected to represent himself, Bujak will not have backup counsel. He will handle the questioning of all of the witnesses - including his ex-wife and her parents, who are pivotal in the case as laid out by the U.S. Attorney's Office. And if he chooses to testify as a witness, he will have to question himself, then answer.

Bujak requested publicly funded backup counsel, but U.S. District Court Judge Edward Lodge said no. Lodge had advised Bujak not to represent himself.

Bujak said Monday he hasn't decided yet whether he will testify.

The ex-prosecutor, who resigned from office in 2011 and is now in private practice, faces six federal felonies, including bankruptcy fraud, concealing assets, making a false statement under oath, money laundering and obstruction of justice. At the core of those charges is a jeweled Rolex watch that Bujak and his then-wife did not disclose among their possessions when they filed for bankruptcy in 2010. Prosecutors say Bujak sold the watch for $25,000, then tried to conceal that income and get his ex-wife to lie about the circumstances. Bujak denies any wrongdoing surrounding the watch.

MOTIONS GALORE

As the trial approached, the U.S. Attorney's Office filed a flurry of motions, including one aimed at preventing Bujak from, in effect, testifying without exposing himself to cross-examination by asking witnesses questions that refer to his own statements or actions.

On Friday, Judge Lodge issued an order that, among other issues, agreed with the prosecution that Bujak must not present "hearsay" testimony by including phrases such as "Isn't it true that I told you ..." in his questions. The prosecution motion included multiple examples of such "hearsay" questioning during a previous trial.

If Bujak wants to use what he has said to witnesses in the past, he must take the stand and be available for cross-examination, Lodge ruled.

Other prosecution motions, initially sealed from public view but unsealed Friday by Lodge, include an effort to keep Bujak from referencing the outcome of his previous trials, two of which ended in acquittals and the other two in hung juries. Three of those trials hinged on allegations that he misused public funds while he was Canyon County Prosecutor; the fourth was a theft allegation from an estate he handled before he was elected.

The U.S. Attorney's Office also wanted to keep Bujak, currently an independent candidate for governor, from presenting evidence about his participation in politics or a theory that he is being prosecuted because of that participation.

Bujak did not oppose either of those prosecution motions but said he might need to address those issues if raised by witnesses. In his pretrial order, Lodge said there is no indication prosecutors plan to bring up the previous trials, and Bujak can bring up his experience as an elected prosecutor if he takes the stand as a witness.

Wendy Olson, U.S. attorney for Idaho, said Monday that such pretrial motions are not unique to the Bujak case and are "actually pretty common" to address how evidence will be introduced in any upcoming trial.

"I can't say that any of this is unusual," Olson said. "Each case has its own facts and circumstances."

DEFENSE CONCERNS

Bujak has expressed his own concerns about the other side's handling of the case. He filed a motion to compel the U.S. Attorney's Office to produce plea negotiations and notes related to testimony by his ex-wife and other evidence.

In an email the day he filed that motion, he used the subject line: "Bujak Accuses Federal Prosecutors of Hiding the Ball/Misconduct."

The motion suggests that prosecutors pressured or induced his ex-wife to testify against him by giving her a misdemeanor plea deal rather than a felony charge.

Lodge responded that Bujak's "speculation about the plea negotiations process" does not provide a basis to force prosecutors to provide more documents, but Bujak may cross-examine his ex-wife on the issue if she testifies. Lodge made similar responses to other items cited in Bujak's motion to compel.

"The court is confident the government is aware of its obligations," Lodge wrote in his order. "The Court need not order disclosure of discovery it has already ordered discoverable just because defendant is not sure or speculates the prosecutors have not complied."

Jury selection begins Tuesday morning at the federal courthouse in Boise, and opening arguments are expected that afternoon. Olson said the trial is expected to last about a week.

Bujak said he's anxious to learn the outcome.

Each of the charges against him carry maximum penalties ranging from five to 10 years.

"If I'm convicted of one or more offenses, I'm going to prison," he said Monday evening. "And if I'm acquitted, it's finally over."

Kristin Rodine: 377-6447

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