Witness for The Prosecution

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April 7, 2008 11:29 a.m.

You remember the D.C. Madam, the not-a-people-person who ran a high-end escort service out of her laundry room in California.

Well, Sen. David Vitter (R-LA) certainly does, and in a hearing Friday, Vitter’s lawyer was trying his best to keep the senator from being called at Deborah Jeane Palfrey’s upcoming trial. Palfrey, who has pleaded not guilty and says that she was running a legitimate “fantasy sex” operation, has subpoenaed Vitter, apparently with the idea that Vitter would testify that no, there was no sex, only fantasy.

But for some reason, Vitter seems reluctant. From The Times-Picayune:

[Lawyer Henry Asbill], who represented Vitter in some earlier motions related to the Palfrey case, told [Judge James] Robertson that the defense has a responsibility to establish that it has a valid legal reason to call his client other than to simply “harass and embarrass him.” He also said that it’s hard to imagine a legitimate reason to call him as a witness given that the escort service had hundreds, if not thousands of customers, and the defense hasn’t even spoken to his client about whether he would have anything to say that would assist its case.

Preston Burton, Palfrey’s attorney, told Judge Robertson that he shouldn’t be required to reveal his reasons for putting people on his witness list because it would disclose his defense strategy to prosecutors.

The judge declined Asbill’s suggestion that he hold a hearing in chambers, and declined to nullify the subpoena. Robertson said he didn’t know the name of Asbill’s client and “didn’t want to know.”

Vitter narrowly avoided testifying earlier in the case at a pretrial hearing in November. That hearing was mercifully canceled.

Asbill also seems keen to indicate that Vitter would be no help to Palfrey’s defense. He’d take the Fifth, Asbill told the judge — obviously not what Palfrey would want since fantasy is as legal as can be. As the Legal Times reports, the prosecution have a line up of 14 former escorts from Palfrey’s service who are expected to testify that the job involved more than a vivid imagination.

And what does Sen. Vitter have to say about all this? Well, when the Times-Picayune queried, he was both sentimental and eager to change the subject:

“I want to reaffirm how sorry I am to have hurt the people I love so deeply, starting with my family and certainly including the people of Louisiana,” Vitter said. “I continue to work every day to make up for that.”

He continued: “I continue to focus on crucial challenges for Louisiana families like health care reform and good-paying jobs.”

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