Watada switches lawyers for court martial

Watada switches lawyers for court martial
HONOLULU (AP) - Army 1st Lt. Ehren Watada has found two new lawyers for his court martial for refusing to go to Iraq.

Watada's first trial ended in mistrial after three days when the judge said the soldier didn't fully understand a pretrial agreement. That deal would have cut the Honolulu man's sentence to four years.

Watada, based at Fort Lewis, Wash., is charged with missing movement and conduct unbecoming an officer. If convicted, he could be sentenced to six years in prison and be dishonorably discharged.

A second court martial is due to begin July 16.

Honolulu-based military defense lawyer Eric Seitz had been representing Watada largely for free. But Seitz said the Seattle law firm Carney Badley Spellman has picked up the case.

"I think the way to put it is I'm not representing him anymore and he's found another firm," Seitz said.

Seitz said he has no hard feelings. "My staff is very relieved because we were spending so much time and money on the case," he said.

Watada's new Seattle attorneys are Kenneth Kagan and James Lobsenz.

Kagan declined to give a reason for the change.

"That would relate to attorney-client privileged communications," he told The Associated Press.

The lawyers have already asked for a continuance of an April 23 deadline to submit written motions, Kagan said.

Previous proceedings in the case have not yet been typed up, he said, and they would like those transcripts in order to properly represent their client.

"He is entitled to have counsel of choice and he is entitled to having his counsel of choice being fully advised," Kagan said.

They've asked that the deadline be postponed to a date 60 days from when they receive the transcripts.

Watada's father said he hasn't heard exactly what prompted the attorney change and that his son just wanted a different firm.

"I have the highest opinion of Eric Seitz," said Bob Watada, former executive director of the state Campaign Spending Commission. "But it's Ehren's decision."

The conduct unbecoming an officer charge against Watada accuses him of making public statements criticizing the Iraq war or President Bush in four instances.

Watada has acknowledged making the statements and missing a June deployment with the 3rd Brigade, 2nd Infantry Division, which is currently in Baghdad.

Just before the mistrial was declared, he had planned to take the witness stand to argue that his motives were to avoid committing war crimes by participating in an illegal war.

Watada is currently assigned to an administrative position at Fort Lewis.

Seitz, who was compensated only for his travel expenses while defending Watada, said he is "strenuously opposed to the war" and "greatly respected" the soldier's stand.