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Judge in Craig Case 'Doesn't Suffer Fools'

EDINA, Minn. -- The star of today's legal proceedings is not Sen. Larry Craig, the Idaho Republican who's trying desperately to rescue his political career. Instead, it's Judge Charles Porter, who effectively holds Craig's legal and political fate in his hands.

While the two figures could not find themselves in more different legal predicaments, Porter and Craig do share at least a similar career arc toward public service. Both men were born in 1945, pre-Baby Boomers (barely) and definitely not part of the "Greatest Generation" that fought and won the war. And after a few different career moves in their early 30s -- Craig climbing the political ladder in local Idaho politics while Porter privately practiced law in Minnesota -- the two men both achieved critical success in 1980, a year that proved pivotal to the next 27 years of their lives.

Craig was elected to the U.S. House in the same year Ronald Reagan swept into the White House. He served there for 10 years there before jumping into the Senate in 1990. Porter, meantime, secured an appointment that year from Al Quie, the Republican governor from 1979-1983, to serve on the Hennepin County Municipal Court, and two years later he was promoted to the district court. Porter has stayed on the district court ever since under the state's system by which most judges are appointed by the governor and then face reelection every six years.

Today in this Twin Cities suburb, Porter will listen to Craig's lawyers try to withdraw his guilty plea from the June 11 arrest during a sex sting operation in the men's restroom of the Minneapolis-St. Paul International Airport. While Craig is sitting out this procedural hearing, all eyes inside the courtroom will be on Porter; however, no cameras will be on him, as the local court does not allow any electronic devices inside.

Court officials say that there is no definitive timeframe in which Porter must rule on the motion, but all indications are that this is a no-nonsense judge who likes to get to the point. "He's a brilliant man. He doesn't suffer fools. He has the ability to get to the point very quickly," said Andrew Birrell, a high-profile criminal defense attorney here who has known Porter for two decades. Birrell called Porter an "interactive" judge who will ask many questions of Craig's attorneys and the prosecutor.

Porter is considered a "judge's judge," and his career track has put him in charge of the most sensitive divisions inside the county court system: 1988, presiding criminal judge; 1992, chief family judge; 1994, chief juvenile judge.

With a current shortage of judges in Minnesota, Hennepin County is one of the busiest courts in the nation, according to court officials. On any given day, judges like Porter may deal with 70 different cases, many of which are handled -- like Craig's original early August plea -- without ever having the suspect appear in front of the judge.

But Porter has never had a case quite like this one, with national attention focused on a senator trying to stretch his congressional service beyond the end of this week.

By Paul Kane  |  September 26, 2007; 12:55 PM ET
Categories:  Ethics and Rules , Senate  
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