Wednesday, March 11, 2009
Judge: Vick must appear at hearing
NORFOLK, Va. -- Fallen NFL star Michael Vick must appear at a bankruptcy hearing next month but should pay his own way from the Kansas prison where he is serving time for his role in a dogfighting conspiracy, a judge ruled Wednesday.
At an hourlong hearing, U.S. Bankruptcy Judge Frank J. Santoro rejected the government's suggestions that he either postpone Vick's April 2 bankruptcy confirmation hearing or allow the suspended player to testify by video hookup from the federal penitentiary at Leavenworth, Kan.
"I'm not going to be put in a position of determining credibility or demeanor over a television," said Santoro, who has insisted since Vick filed for bankruptcy in July that he would have to testify in person.
The U.S. attorney's office in Alexandria, Va., objected to a proposed court order compelling federal marshals to pick up the former Atlanta Falcons quarterback and taking him to Virginia. They cited the logistical burdens, security risks and costs of the temporary transfer.
Santoro said the government provided no evidence to back up the inconvenience and security concerns. However, he agreed with the government's claim that the taxpayers should not have to foot the bill.
The government provided no estimate of how much the trip would cost. One of Vick's criminal attorneys, Lawrence Woodward, presented receipts showing it only cost about $3,636 to bring Vick from Leavenworth to Surry County, Va., in November to plead guilty to state dogfighting charges. Vick paid for that trip.
Assistant U.S. Attorney Robert Coulter also argued that Vick's transfer would compromise "the integrity of the corrections system" by temporarily springing him from the federal penitentiary to tend to his personal affairs. Santoro disagreed, saying Vick probably would rather stay put.
"Mr. Vick is not going to more luxurious accommodations by moving from Leavenworth to the Newport News lockup," where he will be housed while in Virginia, the judge said.
Santoro also balked at delaying the hearing, citing the rights of creditors who are owed millions of dollars.
For the first time, Vick's attorneys publicly confirmed that he has been approved for transfer to home confinement home no sooner than May 21, about two months before his scheduled release from federal custody.
Vick's attorneys had been saying his move to a halfway house was imminent, but Woodward said Vick's probation officer told him Tuesday that Vick will serve the last few weeks of his 23-month sentence at his home in Hampton.
Coulter cautioned that problems still could arise that would delay the move. Though he did not elaborate, Santoro rejected the idea of postponing the confirmation hearing without any assurance that Vick's transfer to home confinement will come off as planned.
Vick's Chapter 11 bankruptcy plan is based largely on his intention to resume his NFL career. Vick was suspended indefinitely after his 2007 indictment, and league commissioner Roger Goodell has said he will review Vick's status after he is released.
The Falcons still hold the contract rights to Vick but have said they will try to trade him. Vick's bankruptcy plan would allow him to keep the first $750,000 of his annual pay. After that, a percentage would go to his creditors based on a sliding scale.
Vick's eight-bedroom, 11-bath home in suburban Atlanta is being sold to pay off part of his debts, but no one bid Tuesday when it went up for auction with a minimum price of $3.2 million.