Otto Zehm Case: Judge Says No Conflict in Cop Defense - Spokane, North Idaho News & Weather KHQ.com

Otto Zehm Case: Judge Says No Conflict in Cop Defense

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SPOKANE, Wash. - A federal judge has ruled that he did not find a conflict of interest in how private attorney Carl Oreskovich has defended Spokane Police Officer Karl F. Thompson Jr. and the case can now proceed.

U.S. District Court Judge Philip Pro, of Las Vegas, had been appointed to decide the conflict issue. The presiding judge, Fred Van Sickle of U.S. District Court, is expected to hold a hearing Thursday to discuss how to move forward with the June 2 trial.

Pro ruled that Thompson has waived his right to a fair trial and that should be sufficient to avoid potential conflicts with having the same attorney represent him in both the $2.9 million civil case and the criminal case where he is charged with using excessive force and lying to investigators about his confrontation with Otto Zehm.

"Although it is not possible at this point to predict whether some actual conflict of interest may emerge as this case proceeds through trial, none is apparent now," Pro wrote. "As set forth above, any potential conflict is not so serious that Thompson could not waive it."

Assistant U.S. Attorney Timothy Durkin asked Pro on Monday decide how to proceed after alleging in court records that Oreskovich used his position as special city attorney to gather information provided by confidential interviews conducted by Assistant City Attorney Rocky Treppiedi.

Durkin pointed out that Treppiedi and other city attorneys withdrew from the civil case only after federal prosecutors filed a motion alleging a conflict of interest about how they interviewed officers before and after they testified in front of a federal grand jury and passed that information about the criminal case to Oreskovich.

"Unfortunately, that (withdrawal from the civil case) doesn't resolve the taint," Durkin said. "It's one thing to allow the skunk in … but the smell remains."

Durkin argued that the officers had or should have expected that conversations with Treppiedi about the civil case would remain confidential. The conflict occurs if Oreskovich uses any of that information in the criminal trial regarding Thompson's actions and statements following the March 18, 2006, confrontation with Zehm.

Pro asked Durkin how to fix the problem. Beyond doing nothing and having the case proceed, Durkin suggested that every witness who met with Treppiedi could be asked to sign a waiver that essentially says he or she is OK with the assistant city attorney passing on confidential information to Oreskovich.

"We have attempted to be as transparent as we possibly can," Oreskovich said.

*This story is from our partners at the Spokesman Review.

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