Sponsored by:

Comment, blog & share photos

Log in | Become a member
The Honolulu Advertiser
Posted on: Saturday, February 4, 2006

Rutledge denounces U.S. judge

By Jim Dooley
Advertiser Staff Writer

Rankled by more delays in his long-running federal criminal case, former Hawai'i labor leader Anthony "Tony" Rutledge yesterday accused a U.S. District judge of "prejudging" him and entering into "a conspiracy with the former prosecutor."

Rutledge shook off his lawyers to speak at an impromptu news conference outside U.S. District Court after Judge David Ezra delayed a hearing until Monday to accept or reject a plea agreement.

"I believe he's been biased against me for many years," Rutledge said.

The hearing was delayed three times yesterday as Ezra held closed-door talks with prosecutors and defense lawyers. Finally, the case was reset for Monday morning.

Ezra rejected an earlier plea agreement reached last year by Rutledge and his son, Aaron Rutledge, a co-defendant in the criminal case, with prosecutors.

Ezra could not be reached for comment on Rutledge's statement.

There are two former prosecutors involved in the criminal case against the Rutledges, Marshall Silverberg and Edward Groves. Asked whom he was referring to, Rutledge said, "both of them."

Elliot Enoki, executive assistant U.S. attorney in Hawai'i, responded on behalf of Silverberg, an assistant U.S. attorney here.

"Neither the U.S. attorney's office nor the attorneys in it have been in any conspiracy in any case with any judge," Enoki said.

Groves, who left government service for a private legal practice last year, said, "Tony Rutledge's false accusations about Judge Ezra show that he is out of control and doesn't respect the rule of law, despite admitting in open court, twice in the past six months, to felonious conduct."

Tony Rutledge's lawyer Jeffrey Rawitz said yesterday the delays were due to efforts to resolve "many difficult issues."

"It's been a long and difficult case, and we hope to reach closure Monday," Rawitz said.

Brook Hart, a lawyer representing the private company now running Unity House Inc., a $42 million nonprofit labor organization that played a central part in the criminal case, said he believes the delays centered on talks about the future of Unity House.

The terms of the new plea agreement, outlined in court Thursday, call for the pro-Rutledge board of directors to take back control of Unity House. The directors were ousted in December 2004 after federal agents seized control of the nonprofit.

A private company was appointed by U.S. Judge Samuel King to operate Unity House while the criminal case was pending, and Hart said yesterday that if the plea agreement is accepted, there should be "an orderly transition" from the receiver back to the previous directors.

Hart said the court-appointed receiver is in the process of trying to recover some $17 million in Union House assets from third parties.

In his expletive-studded statement outside court, Rutledge said Ezra "now wants to give the receiver and his friend Brook Hart another three to four months" to run Unity House.

"He's got until Monday to approve the agreement," Rutledge said of Ezra. "If he does, he does. ..."

Hart said Ezra is "an even-handed and fair-minded judge" who is trying to do what's best for all parties involved, including some 20,000 beneficiaries of Unity House.

The 13-count federal indictment returned in December 2004 accused Rutledge and his son Aaron of fraud and conspiracy in their operation of Unity House and related business entities.

The plea agreements reached last year and this month with a team of Washington-based prosecutors who replaced Groves in the case calls for Tony Rutledge to plead guilty to a single count of filing a false corporate tax return in 1997.

Last year's deal would have allowed Rutledge to return to employment at Unity House after completing a five-year probation sentence.

Ezra cited that provision as one reason for rejecting the deal in November, saying he could not allow a man convicted of a felony tax offense to return to a position of responsibility at a nonprofit like Unity House.

Under the agreement now pending before Ezra, Rutledge agrees to permanently "disassociate" himself from Unity House and serve a three-year probation sentence.

The deal would also give Rutledge a say in the appointment of two new directors of Unity House and allow leadership there to pay more than $1 million in outstanding legal bills owed by Tony and Aaron Rutledge as well as grant them back pay, severance pay and compensation for lost vacation and health benefits.

Aaron Rutledge has agreed to plead guilty to a single misdemeanor criminal offense and serve a one-year term of probation.

Reach Jim Dooley at jdooley@honoluluadvertiser.com.