Watada changes attorneys for appeal
The new attorneys also question the need for a retrial
Honolulu-born Army 1st Lt. Ehren Watada, who refused to deploy to Iraq last summer with his Fort Lewis Stryker brigade unit, has hired two Seattle attorneys because he wanted "someone local to do his appeal."
Since the mistrial, the Army has refiled charges against the 28-year-old artillery officer, including one count of missing a movement and two counts of conduct unbecoming of an officer. Those counts cover statements Watada, a 1996 Kalani High School graduate, made criticizing the Iraq war and President Bush.
Watada's first court-martial in February ended in a mistrial. His second trial is scheduled for July but could be pushed into the fall.
With Army 1st Lt. Ehren Watada awaiting a second trial, his new lawyer said he believes the principle of double jeopardy applies in his case.
Ken Kagan, attorney with the Seattle law firm of Carney Bradle Spellman, said yesterday that his agency filed papers with the Army on March 28, saying it had replaced Honolulu attorney Eric Seitz.
Seitz said Watada, 28, simply "wanted someone local to do his appeal," and expressed no hard feelings for his former client's decision.
"My staff is very relieved because we were spending so much time and money on the case," he said.
Kagan, one of two attorneys retained by Watada, declined to say why his law firm was hired or whether it was being paid. The other attorney is James Lobsenz, from Kagan's law firm.
Kagan said that Army Reserve Capt. Mark Kim, who is also an administrative judge in Spokane, Wash., will continue as part of Watada's defense team and will be recalled to active duty when the hearings and trial resume.
Seitz had been handling Watada's court-martial for free, except for travel expenses. A mistrial was declared in early February, three days after the court-martial began.
Kagan said that "the first determination that has to be made now is whether it is appropriate to have a second trial. So that's our focus right now."
A military judge set April 23 as the deadline for both sides to submit written motions, May 21-22 to hear pretrial motions and July 16 as the date for the second court-martial.
However, Kagan said his law firm has asked for more time to review the transcript of the first court-martial, which could push the trial into October.
Following the mistrial, the Army refiled charges against the 28-year-old artillery officer, including one count of missing a movement and two counts of conduct unbecoming of an officer. Those counts cover statements the 1996 Kalani High School graduate made criticizing the Iraq war and President Bush. Conviction on all counts could mean nearly eight years in prison and a dishonorable discharge.
A military judge ordered a mistrial because he believed Watada did not fully understand a pretrial agreement. That deal would have cut Watada's sentence to four years.
Watada's unit -- 3rd Brigade, 2nd Infantry Division -- is expected to return to its Fort Lewis, Wash., Army post from Baghdad, Iraq, this summer.
Kagan said Watada, who was eligible to leave the Army in early December under the terms of commission, has not been incarcerated since the mistrial and is assigned to a desk job.