Appeals court clears way for Alaska lawmaker trial

LOS ANGELES (Reuters) - A U.S. appeals court on Wednesday cleared the way for prosecutors to use previously barred evidence against a former Alaska legislator accused of trading his vote on an oil tax in order to get future legal work from an oil field services company.

The Ninth U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals in San Francisco overturned a trial court’s ruling that prosecutors could not use evidence they considered crucial in a bribery case against former state Rep. Bruce Weyhrauch.

A U.S. Justice Department spokeswoman said the agency does not comment on pending matters.

Weyhrauch, a lawyer, was indicted in 2007 for allegedly soliciting future legal work from Veco Corp in exchange for voting as the company instructed him on the oil tax.

He was charged with conspiracy, bribery, attempted extortion and mail fraud. He pleaded not guilty, contending he had no duty to disclose that he was negotiating for future work with Veco.

Shortly before his trial was set to start, U.S. District Judge John Sedwick barred prosecutors from using state ethics manuals, evidence that Alaska lawmakers customarily acknowledge conflicts of interest on the floor of the legislature, as well as a description of ethics training Weyhrauch received and evidence that he served on a legislative ethics committee.

The appeals court reversed the trial court’s decision to exclude the evidence, finding that “the government may proceed on its theory that Weyhrauch committed honest services fraud by failing to disclose a conflict of interest...”

The case was remanded to the trial court.

Weyhrauch is among 15 people charged in a continuing federal investigation of corruption allegations that has netted nine criminal convictions, including those of Republican U.S. Sen. Ted Stevens and former state House Speaker Peter Kott.

Stevens, who represented Alaska in the Senate for 40 years, was convicted in October of lying on disclosure forms to report more than $250,000 in home improvements and other gifts from an oil executive. He lost his re-election bid this month.

Editing by Bill Trott