HARRISBURG -- An attorney for former House speaker Bill DeWeese told a panel of judges Wednesday that the longtime Democratic lawmaker's corruption trial was flawed by limits on the number of defense witnesses.
DeWeese, of Waynesburg, was convicted in February 2012 of five felony counts in a case in which he was accused of directing his legislative staff to do political work on state-paid time. He reported to prison in May of that year to serve a 2 1/2- to 5-year sentence.
But attorney William Costopoulos argued before three Superior Court judges that the convictions should be thrown out because the trial judge had stopped him from calling numerous witnesses beyond the eight who testified on the facts of the case. The additional witnesses would have spoken about times throughout the period in question in which DeWeese instructed employees that they could campaign only on vacation days, during lunch hours or on other time not paid by the state, Mr. Costopoulos said.
"This excluded testimony was not just the essence of my defense, it was my defense," he said.
Amy Zapp, chief deputy attorney general, responded that reasonable limits can be applied to the number of witnesses.
"The right to present witnesses is not unfettered," she said.
She also argued that the case was not only about whether DeWeese had a policy requiring campaigning to be done off the state clock, but also whether employees adhered to that policy.
Judge Jack Panella questioned Ms. Zapp about whether limiting the number of witnesses might not prevent the defense "from presenting the witness that may have brought the message home."
"What right does a trial judge have to take over the trial tactics of the defense?" he said.
Mr. Costopoulos said he expects a ruling in the next two to three months. In addition to the question of limiting the witness list, the written appeal raises claims about the venue of the trial, the cross-examination of a state witness and other issues.
Karen Langley: firstname.lastname@example.org or 717-787-2141. First Published May 22, 2013 4:45 AM