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Court Says Soldier Need Not Appear

March 13, 2002

WICHITA, Kan. (AP) _ An attorney for Scott O’Connor thought his client had a good reason for missing a misdemeanor hearing in Municipal Court _ O’Connor’s in Afghanistan fighting a war.

Despite that explanation, the city court ordered on Feb. 8 that O’Connor, 26, be arrested when he returns home.

``Now it looks like his welcome home celebration, if it’s up to the city, will consist of him being arrested and taken to jail,″ O’Connor’s attorney, Mark Schoenhofer, told The Wichita Eagle.

But on Wednesday, the court set aside that warrant after a newspaper published the story of O’Connor’s plight.

Wichita Municipal Court Chief Judge Julie Connolly said O’Connor’s defense attorney did not follow proper procedures. She said he only informed city Judge Jennifer Jones on the date of the hearing that his client was deployed _ without providing any supporting documentation.

``She made that discretionary call that is totally in her discretion,″ Connolly said of Jones’ decision to issue the arrest warrant. ``Had the (defense) attorney done some simple things, it wouldn’t have happened.″

The municipal court has an agreement with McConnell Air Force base whereby deployed soldiers are given deferred court dates, and all the defense attorney had to do was contact the prosecutor, Connolly said.

``We knew nothing about it; it was a month ago,″ she said.

The prosecutor contacted the defense attorney after reading the article in The Wichita Eagle. The court then set aside the warrant and set another court date, Connolly said.

O’Connor, an Air Force sergeant, was stationed at McConnell Air Force Base last July when police booked him on two misdemeanor charges after a fight at an Old Town nightclub. He has pleaded innocent to charges of battery and impersonating a police officer, contending that he was trying to break up the fight, Schoenhofer said.

If convicted on both charges, O’Connor could face a $1,000 fine and 13 months in jail.

Wichita’s Municipal Court allowed one continuance in December. But when the second hearing came up in February, the warrant was issued.

O’Connor called his mother from overseas, after learning from another sergeant that he was facing arrest.

``It’s ludicrous,″ Schoenhofer said. All I can do is get the court to set aside the case until after he returns. That’s all I can do.″

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