Judge grants delay to defense in Franklin County embezzlement trial

Kristin M. Kraemer, Tri-City HeraldNovember 28, 2012 

Dennis Huston's trial on allegations he took at least $1.8 million from Franklin County has been delayed seven weeks so his attorney can continue wading through stacks of paperwork.

John Jensen told the court Tuesday that he's been handling the defense investigation without the help of an expert, so it's taken him a little more time to review about 4,500 pages of documents and look into numerous search warrants served in the case.

The Kennewick lawyer also pointed out that even though his client -- the county's former public works accounting and administrative director -- was arrested in early February, he was not charged until May 25.

"I picked the March 6 date with the belief that it would be a realistic date to complete those issues," Jensen said.

Assistant Attorney General Scott Marlow objected to the delay, saying that should have been enough time to prepare for the previously scheduled trial in January.

"The scheme itself, the state will contend it was complex and it's something that took a while to unravel, but the paper trail it left behind was very straight forward," said Marlow, who's handling the criminal case because of the county connection. "You see the same pattern repeated hundreds, perhaps thousands, of times. It's not a complex case and it doesn't need over a year to begin trial."

Superior Court Judge Vic VanderSchoor, who has been assigned the case, noted that the defense's proposed March trial is less than nine months from the date Huston entered an innocent plea to charges of first-degree theft, money laundering and cocaine possession.

That's not inappropriate, said VanderSchoor when he granted the request.

Officials suspect Huston, 65, took more than $2.8 million from the county since 1996 to support his cocaine and gambling habits.

The charges allege a conservative loss of $1.8 million.

He was arrested Feb. 2 and placed on administrative leave, then fired six days later by the county commissioners.

The same day Huston was jailed on the embezzlement allegations, the county hired a Seattle attorney for legal advice on issues not connected to the criminal investigation. That resulted in a nine-page internal report that county officials never intended to be made public.

Jensen has been trying to get the report, which was leaked to the Tri-City Herald in late September. The lawyer said he has a right to see all documents related to his client, and the report may contain some relevant evidence.

Earlier this month, Judge Craig Matheson agreed that Huston is entitled to the information compiled from interviews with county employees, but not the author's opinions on disciplinary actions against employees. He asked Deputy Prosecutor Janet Taylor to give him the original report and a copy with suggested redactions.

On Tuesday, Marlow told Judge VanderSchoor that Judge Matheson had reviewed the report behind closed doors and "indicated that portions of the redacted report can be disclosed to Jensen and myself."

VanderSchoor said he will honor Matheson's ruling. The complete report and the redacted version remain sealed in the court file.

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