Judge rejects defense's motion in fraud case against former Arkansas senator

Posted: November 5, 2017 at 4:29 a.m.

FAYETTEVILLE -- Defense attorneys in a case involving former state Sen. Jon Woods, R-Springdale, lost their claim that government attorneys failed to provide usable documents to the defense in a timely manner, court documents released Friday show.

Three people -- Woods; Oren Paris III, president of Ecclesia College in Springdale; and consultant Randell Shelton Jr., formerly of Alma -- are accused of participating in a plan to pay Woods, who was in office at the time, and another legislator in return for steering state General Improvement Fund grants to the college. All three have pleaded innocent and are set for trial in federal court in Fayetteville on Dec. 4.

Defense attorneys filed objections starting in September, claiming that documents turned over to them by the government were in an electronic form that couldn't be searched and that files were imprecisely named or otherwise identified, making them practically unusable.

The motion asked the government to either provide those documents in a usable form or for the court to bar the use of those documents at the trial.

U.S. District Judge Timothy Brooks ruled that the government provided the defense more information than the law required and did so in a usable form and well within court deadlines, according to a court order dated Friday. Brooks acknowledged in the order that extracting the information was time-consuming but said it was still within limits.

"Defense counsel's frustration over wasted time is understandable, but the court does not believe these facts support a finding of bad faith," the order stated. "Rather, in essence, it would appear to the court that the government attempted to provide defense counsel with a separate, additional production of materials that, while relevant, it was not even required to produce under the federal rules or this court orders."

As for the time spent trying to extract the information, "the court does not see how that is any more the fault of the government than of the defendants or their counsel," the order stated. Software to speedily extract the information was available at a cost of $1,400, but instead the defense "decided to devote 'dozens of hours' to in-house computer troubleshooting," the order stated,.

None of the three law firms for defendants in the case replied to a reporter seeking comment.

Woods faces 15 counts of fraud, all related to either wire or mail transfers of money. Paris and Shelton are named in 14 of the fraud charges.

All three defendants are charged with one count of conspiracy to commit fraud. Woods is also charged with one count of money laundering in connection with the purchase of a cashier's check.

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Metro on 11/05/2017