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Judge approves dismissal of some Wecht charges

A federal judge today approved the elimination of more than half the public corruption charges against Dr. Cyril H. Wecht and ordered that the charges cannot be filed again should the government lose at trial.

"It simply would not be fair to Dr. Wecht, at this late stage of the proceedings, to allow the specter of future prosecution on the dismissed counts to hang over his head throughout jury selection and trial," U.S. District Judge Arthur J. Schwab wrote in a 12-page order.

Last week, prosecutors filed a motion requesting to drop 43 of the 84 counts of fraud and theft related to allegations that Wecht, 76, of Squirrel Hill used his public office while Allegheny County coroner for private gain. They requested to drop the charges without prejudice, which means they could have been filed again.

Wecht's lawyers objected, saying that could expose their client to double jeopardy and ongoing harassment by the government.

They also asked Schwab to hold an evidentiary hearing to determine if prosecutors acted in bad faith by dropping half its case on the eve of trial. Schwab declined.

Jury selection is scheduled to begin Thursday, with the trial to start Jan. 28.

Schwab agreed to drop the charges after the jury is empanelled, which Wecht's lawyers requested so that jeopardy would attach and jurors would know about the government's actions.

Schwab granted a defense team request to bar prosecutors from submitting 10,000 pages of Wecht's bank records at this stage of the case.

The judge also agreed to allow certain exhibits pertaining to the Wecht Institute at Duquesne University, which were part of the charges dropped by the government, to be used by the defense. Wecht's lawyers say the exhibits help disprove some of the government's original allegations.

On Tuesday, the 3rd U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals in Philadelphia will consider a request by local news organizations, including the Tribune-Review, to reverse Schwab's decision to keep the public from know juror identities. Media lawyers have requested that the appeals court delay jury selection and possibly the trial if a decision cannot be made by then.

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