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Judge will take on a Games hearing

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U.S. District Judge David Sam for the first time will hear formal oral arguments from attorneys for Olympic bid leaders Tom Welch and Dave Johnson on July 9.

As the trial's start date of July 30 draws near, the pair's attorneys have informally exchanged preliminary witness lists with prosecutors. Names on the list include former Olympic budget director Scott Green.

Thus far in the federal government's case of conspiracy, fraud and racketeering against Welch and Johnson, arguments have been made to a federal magistrate assigned to deal with pre-trial motions.

The attorneys have been before Sam at only one public hearing — a routine meeting to discuss electronic equipment to be used at the trial. But even then, it was U.S. Magistrate Judge Ronald Boyce who conducted the discussion.

Thus far Boyce has denied every one of Welch's and Johnson's requests to dismiss the indictment.

Last week their attorneys asked Sam to hold a hearing to consider their most recent objection to Boyce's report and recommendation regarding the charges of interstate transportation in aid of racketeering, which fall under the federal Travel Act and refer to a rarely used Utah bribery law.

Clerks for Sam confirmed the hearing was scheduled for the morning of July 9.

Observers of the case say it is not entirely unheard of for a trial judge to second guess the decision of a magistrate.

"But it doesn't happen very often," said former U.S. attorney Brent Ward. "Judge Boyce is well-respected, and when he's decided something, most (of Utah's federal judges) will agree."

Erik Luna, an associate professor of criminal law at the University of Utah, said the high-profile nature of the case may explain Sam's extra attention to the pre-trial motions to dismiss.

"It may be that Judge Sam is merely trying to give the defense every opportunity, or at least the appearance of every opportunity, to air their complaints," Luna said. "Judge Sam has a reputation for being a conscientious judge." Luna said Sam may be looking for a "rehashing" of the facts or the "re-raising of the legal issue, whether or not these particular charges are lawful given the factual and legal precedents on which they stand."

Ward said the Travel Act charges are the "weak point" of the case when compared to the 10 fraud charges and one charge of conspiracy. "The government has strung together a series of weak links to come up with the racketeering charge," he said.

Federal prosecutors declined to comment on Monday's hearing or their own witness list. Attorneys for the defense did not immediately return telephone calls Tuesday about the witness lists. The lists are not part of the court record and so are not public.

Scott Green, who reviewed Olympic finances in the Governor's Office of Planning and Budget, has been notified by the defense that he will be subpoenaed to testify, according to his attorney, Jim Bradshaw.

Bradshaw said his client has not heard from the prosecution. "But that doesn't mean anything," he said, noting Green could be subpoenaed by the government at anytime.

Green served as the Salt Lake Organizing Committee's budget director, but resigned in 1997 and took a job with the office of planning and budget. His duties include reviewing SLOC's budget for Gov. Mike Leavitt.

A spokesman for Billy Payne, the head of the 1996 Summer Games in Atlanta, and former Atlanta Mayor Andrew Young indicated the pair will testify if called.

"Both Mr. Payne and Mr. Young will cooperate completely with any legal requests related to the trial," Lee Echols, a spokesman for the Atlanta Olympic organizers, said.

Two leaders of the International Olympic Committee, Anita DeFrantz of the United States and Dick Pound of Canada, have already been notified they'll be called to testify for the prosecution.

Johnson has in the past said DeFrantz knew about SLOC's plans to woo support for Salt Lake City's Olympic bid from IOC members, something the IOC vice president has denied. Ultimately, the Salt Lake bidders gave IOC members more than $1 million in cash, scholarships and gifts.

Pound was chairman of the IOC panel that investigated IOC members who benefited from Salt Lake's largesse. That investigation resulted in the IOC expelling six members, pressuring four others to resign and sanctioning 10 others.

E-MAIL: mtitze@desnews.com ; lisa@desnews.com