By Ken Stone, Times of San Diego, a member of the San Diego Online News Association
Photo: Trailed by news cameras but no protesters, Rep. Duncan D. Hunter leaves federal court after agreeing to new trial date. Photo by Ken Stone
October 7, 2019 (San Diego) - Rep. Duncan D. Hunter’s criminal trial on campaign spending misconduct was reset Monday for Jan. 22, 2020, at his legal team’s request — an eight-day delay to accommodate a 9th Circuit appeal.
“We hope that this will give us a window to get back here and both be ready to go,” said Devin Burstein, who is representing the Alpine Republican at a Dec. 12 hearing in Seattle of the 9th Circuit U.S. Court of Appeals.
However, Hunter said after a 5-minute session downtown that he wouldn’t attend the 9th Circuit appeal hearing. He declined to comment on a recent poll showing him with 11% support in his bid for re-election in the 50th Congressional District.
Judge Thomas Whelan expressed hope that Hunter’s trial on 60 counts of fraud involving alleged spending of $250,000 on personal items and family trips would be done by the March 3 primary.
Government prosecutors agreed to delaying the trial from Jan. 14, but had no comment on how fast they expect the 9th Circuit three-judge panel to rule on the Hunter appeal, based on the “Speech or Debate” clause of the Constitution.
The expected four-week trial thus will start 41 days ahead of the primary in which Hunter is being challenged by his November 2018 Democratic rival Ammar Campa-Najjar as well as prominent Republicans Darrell Issa, Carl DeMaio and Brian Jones.
With Hunter’s father, former Rep. Duncan Lee Hunter, sitting two rows behind his son, Whelan said his main concern was “this case may run quite a while. I’d like to get it resolved for the voters’ sake and Mr. Hunter’s sake prior to the primary.”
Asked if he was OK with the date, Hunter said: “Yes, your honor.”
Meanwhile, the government Monday asked the 9th Circuit to allow it a one-week extension on when it has to file supplemental briefs. The new deadline apparently would be Oct. 16.
“The United States did not oppose the [Hunter] request for a one-week extension of the filing date, as long as it would not impact this Court’s ability to hear argument in December 2019 and issue a ruling in advance of the scheduled January 2020 trial date,” wrote Assistant U.S. Attorney Phillip L.B. Halpern on behalf of the prosecution.
On July 8, Judge Whelan denied Hunter’s requests to dismiss the indictment and have prosecutors on the case recused due to alleged political bias. The judge also denied Hunter’s request to have the trial moved outside of San Diego.
Hunter was indicted along with his wife on counts including wire fraud, conspiracy and falsification of records, accusing them of making scores of improper personal purchases with campaign funds over the course of six years.
Margaret Hunter pleaded guilty in June to a conspiracy charge and faces up to five years in federal custody and a fine of up to $250,000. She agreed to work with prosecutors on the case and could eventually testify against her husband.
Duncan Hunter, who has repeatedly maintained his innocence and contends his prosecution is politically motivated, was re-elected last November with 51.7% of the vote in his district, despite being indicted three months before the election. He was first elected in 2008, succeeding his father, who held the East County seat for 28 years.
Hunter is accused of using campaign on personal expenses, including to pursue extramarital affairs with lobbyists and congressional aides, beginning shortly after he took office in 2009.
Prosecutors allege he repeatedly used campaign credit cards or sought reimbursement for expenses that included resort hotel rooms, airfare, a skiing trip and Uber rides to and from the homes of five women with whom he had “intimate relationships.”