WASHINGTON — Lawyers for Sen. Ted Stevens called Monday for his trial to be moved to his home state, saying that the "center of gravity" for the charges faced by the 84-year-old Republican rests "squarely in Alaska."
Stevens' lawyers filed a motion Monday afternoon asking for the change in venue from Washington to Anchorage. Stevens pleaded not guilty last week to seven counts of failing to disclose more than $250,000 in home repairs and other gifts that investigators say he received from Bill Allen, the former chief of the oil services company Veco Corp.
His lawyers argue that because the witnesses are in Alaska — along with the home where the repairs in question were made — the Sept. 24 trial should be there, not in Washington. They'd like a jury to visit the home to see the value of the renovations for itself, they wrote, and that "obviously would not be convenient for a Washington, D.C., jury."
They also argue that it will be disruptive for Stevens to have the trial in Washington while he runs for re-election in Alaska. If it isn't moved, the senator will have "a minimal opportunity to personally participate in the electoral process that will decide his professional future."
"Unfortunately, no matter the outcome of this trial, this schedule alone may not be enough to ensure that Senator Stevens has the ability to compete meaningfully in the upcoming election," they wrote. "Senator Stevens must be able to campaign, albeit limitedly, during the trial. Were venue transferred to Alaska, Senator Stevens would have the opportunity to campaign in the evenings and on weekends during the trial."
Stevens had a campaign rally Monday in Anchorage. He again proclaimed his innocence and said the trial would vindicate him.
"By scheduling the trial for next month, this court has made it possible for all Alaskans to know the facts of the case and make up their own mind," Stevens said. "They will be the ultimate jury before they cast their votes in November."
His lawyers also ask that the judge who was assigned the case in Washington take it over in Alaska, "because this court has preliminary familiarity with this case and scheduled a prompt trial."
Prosecutors have until next Monday to file a response to the motion, the first filing in a fast-moving case with an aggressive timetable. U.S. District Judge Emmet Sullivan is expected to make a decision about the trial's location at a hearing Aug. 20. Right now, the trial, which is on an accelerated schedule, is tentatively set for Sept. 24.
Until prosecutors file their motion, they'll have no additional comment, Justice Department spokeswoman Laura Sweeney said.
They're likely to oppose Stevens' efforts to move the trial. In court last week, the lead prosecutor in the case, Brenda Morris, said she thought "venue change is inappropriate." She also said the government had taken the locations of witnesses into consideration in preparation for what's expected to be a three-week trial.
Although many of the allegations in his indictment revolve around his home in Girdwood, Alaska, Stevens was charged in federal court in Washington. He faces seven counts of making false statements on the financial disclosure forms he's required to file each year with the secretary of the U.S. Senate, in Washington.
(Sean Cockerham of the Anchorage Daily News contributed to this report from Anchorage.)