Larry Craig

Craig will not appear at hearing

Sen. Larry Craig says he will not appear in Minnesota Wednesday at a hearing to have his guilty plea to disorderly conduct overturned.

"I have been advised not to. I will not be attending," the Idaho Republican told CNN on Tuesday.

The question of his appearance had remained undecided as late as Monday night, according to a spokeswoman for Craig's defense team.

Craig was arrested in June at the Minneapolis-St. Paul International Airport as part of a sex sting. An undercover police officer said Craig tried to solicit sex from him in a men's room stall. Craig pleaded guilty in August to a charge of disorderly conduct and now is trying to reverse that plea, claiming he made the plea under stress.

The hearing is expected to be run with military precision by Hennepin County District Judge Charles A. Porter Jr. Craig's absence won't allow Porter to question the senator about his state of mind before his decision to plead guilty. Porter's options include issuing an immediate ruling from the bench instead of taking days or weeks to issue a written decision, as is usual.

The no-nonsense jurist has taken firm steps to ensure that the proceedings, to be held in a courthouse in the affluent Minneapolis suburb of Edina, are not overrun by a media throng.

In this electronic era of cell phones, digital cameras and tape recorders, Porter's prehearing instructions to the media were strict: None of the above will be allowed in his courtroom. Nor will pagers, Blackberries, Palm Pilots or laptops.

Members of the media were required to register in advance for half of the seats in the 78-seat courtroom for the 1:30 p.m. hearing, which is expected to last between 30 minutes and an hour.

Court spokeswoman Nancy Peters said the media seats have all been filled. Satellite trucks for CNN and Fox News were already parked outside the sleek white courthouse Tuesday afternoon.

Porter, a U.S. Navy reservist from 1977 to 2003, has been a Hennepin County judge since 1980. He has a reputation in the Minneapolis-St. Paul legal community as a smart, tough judge.

"He expects you to be very prepared," said Joseph Daly, a trial law professor at Hamline University in St. Paul. "He can incite fear in young attorneys — and some old ones."

Daly said Porter is fair. "He won't go with public opinion. He's going to look at this very carefully."

But lawyers contacted disagreed on how Porter might rule. Noted Twin Cities criminal attorney Joseph Friedberg, who has appeared before Porter, believes the plea agreement Craig signed was technically flawed and the judge would allow the plea to be withdrawn. "There was no factual basis," Friedberg said. "Craig said he was guilty, but the petition didn't describe the conduct that he engaged in."

Lawyer and media legal analyst Ron Rosenbaum, however, supported prosecutor Christopher Renz's contention, made in a motion filed Monday, that Craig knew exactly what he was doing when he pleaded guilty and took steps to reverse the process only after the incident was made public.

"The guy is a U.S. senator," Rosenbaum said. "The judge can assume that he had some knowledge of the legal system and how laws work. "

Rosenbaum said Craig should be "careful what he asks for. If the judge reverses the plea, the case would go back to square one with the original charges. I'm not sure Craig would be happy with that."

Most lawyers contacted were skeptical about Craig's claims that he never discussed the case with an attorney before signing his plea agreement.

"If I were Judge Porter, I'd want to ask him about that," said Daly.

Craig says he plans to resign from the Senate on Sept. 30, but indicated that he might change his mind if his guilty plea can be withdrawn and he can clear his name.

Since the circumstances of Craig's arrest became public, the men's room has become a tourist attraction and the term "wide stance" part of the national lexicon.

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