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m4735 BC-MN-CraigArrest-Appea 4thLd-Writethru 10-15 0591

Sen. Craig appeals judge’s refusal to withdraw a guilty plea

Eds: ADDS statements from airport commission, Craig’s attorneys.

By AMY FORLITI

Associated Press Writer

MINNEAPOLIS (AP) — Embattled Sen. Larry Craig asked the Minnesota Court of Appeals on Monday to overrule a county judge who refused to allow him to withdraw his guilty plea in connection with an arrest in an airport bathroom sex sting.

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Craig’s appeal was filed at the court in St. Paul less than two weeks after Hennepin County District Court Judge Charles Porter refused to overturn the guilty plea, saying it "was accurate, voluntary and intelligent, and ... supported by the evidence."

Craig, a Republican from Idaho, pleaded guilty to disorderly conduct in August after he was accused of soliciting sex in a bathroom at the Minneapolis-St. Paul International Airport in June.

The four-page filing did not detail the basis for the appeal, noting only that Craig was appealing Porter’s Oct. 4 order. The documents were dated with Friday’s date but were received and stamped by the Appeals Court on Monday.

More extensive legal briefs are expected to be filed by both sides.

"From the outset, Senator Craig has maintained that he is innocent of any illegal conduct at the Minneapolis airport," Craig’s lead attorney, Billy Martin, said in a prepared statement. "Like every other citizen, Senator Craig has the constitutional right to make every effort to clear his name."

A spokesman for the Metropolitan Airports Commission, which owns and operates the airport, said the guilty plea reflected Craig’s conduct in the public restroom.

"The facts in the case speak for themselves, and we are confident the senator’s guilty plea will stand," spokesman Patrick Hogan said in a statement.

In an interview on Sunday with KTVB-TV in Boise, Idaho, Craig repeated that he will not resign his post in the Senate and said he had the right to pursue his legal options.

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"It is my right to do what I’m doing," said Craig. "I’ve already provided for Idaho certainty that Idaho needed — I’m not running for re-election. I’m no longer in the way. I am pursuing my constitutional rights."

But legal experts have predicted that Craig would have a hard time winning on appeal.

"What’s the likelihood of success? Even less likely of prevailing in the appeal than he had in prevailing before Porter," Steve Simon, a legal defense expert at the University of Minnesota Law School, said earlier this month.

The appeals court must find there’s been an "abuse of discretion" by the trial judge before overturning a ruling — in other words, that some aspect of the ruling was decided improperly. Ron Meshbesher, a longtime Minneapolis defense attorney, said earlier this month that the standard for an abuse of discretion is vague but that such a ruling is fairly rare.

"It’s not frequent, let’s put it that way," Meshbesher said. "It certainly is a steep hill to climb."

It would most likely be well into 2008 before the Court of Appeals rules on the case. The process by which both sides prepare their legal briefs alone usually stretches to more than 100 days, and the Court of Appeals faces a heavy caseload.

Craig’s Senate term ends at the end of 2008.

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On the Net:

Minnesota Court of Appeals, Craig filing: http://www.mncourts.gov/?pageNewsItemDisplay&item20480

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