Rep. Duncan D. Hunter (R-Alpine) has fired his three trial attorneys, and the U.S. Attorney has filed papers seeking to disqualify his remaining trial attorney, former District Attorney Paul Pfingst.
Hunter’s trial is set for Jan. 22 on 60 counts of campaign corruption charges in U.S. District Court.
Hunter’s appellate attorney will continue to handle an appeal before the 9th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals that is asking for the charges to be thrown out. That attorney is not involved in the trial.
Pfingst signed on to represent Hunter on Oct. 28. Attorney Greg Vega wrote a declaration last week that said it was Hunter’s decision to terminate him and two other attorneys.
The U.S. Attorney’s office wants Pfingst disqualified because his firm, Higgs, Fletcher & Mack, represented witnesses who testified before the grand jury which eventually indicted Hunter in September 2018.
The court papers say those same witnesses will likely testify in Hunter’s trial and that is a conflict.
“Higgs is faced with an actual conflict and unwaivable conflict of interest because it has represented since early 2017– and continues to represent – multiple witnesses in this action,” states the motion.
“Such joint representation by a single law firm of both a defendant and adverse witnesses in the same criminal case presents a textbook conflict of interest that is anathema to the fair administration of justice,” the U.S. Attorney’s office states.
Pfingst could not be reached for comment at press time.
It is possible the appeal and this disqualification request may not be over by the time of trial, so it could be delayed.
Margaret Hunter, 44, of Alpine, had her sentencing date moved to April 13. She has pleaded guilty to conspiracy to use funds from her husband’s campaign for personal items.
Margaret Hunter could get five years in prison. She has also agreed to testify against her husband.
Duncan Hunter re-paid his campaign about $60,000 of his own funds several years ago which he said represents the amount used in personal expenses. However, the charges state he and his wife used $250,000 in campaign funds for personal use.
Duncan Hunter, 42, says the charges against him are a partisan witch-hunt and he has pleaded not guilty. He faces a re-election primary on March 3.
Both Hunter and his wife are free on bond.