A Virginia judge yesterday denied a defense motion to dismiss felony gambling charges against Alexandria Commonwealth's Attorney William L. Cowhig.
Cowhig, acquitted last month of accepting bribes from the operator of the city's largest bingo operation, will be tried Jan. 22 on one count of illegal gambling. The prosecutor who has temporarily stepped aside from his duties will be tried in March on a second gambling count.
Prince William Circuit Court Judge Percy Thornton Jr., assigned to handle the Cowhig trials after judges in Alexandria disqualified themselves, yesterday granted a defense motion to keep evidence against Cowhig that must be turned over to his defense lawyers secret until the trials.
Special bingo prosecutor Edward J. White, who prosecuted the bribery trial last month, said yesterday he has no ojections to keeping the evidence from the public. In the bribery trial similar evidence was not sealed.
"It is better to try this case in the courts than in the newspapers," White said.
Thornton, an occasional critic of the press, said during the last Cowhig trial that news reporters only look for "sensationalism" not accuracy in reporting courtroom events.
Cowhig's newly chosen attorney, James Clark of Alexandria, argued unsuccessfully yesterday in a Manassas courtroom that the remaining charges against Cowhig should be reduced from felonies to misdemeanors.
"I don't think it is fair, I don't think it is just, I don't think is is legal," Clark said, referring to Virginia's gambling statute, which even White yesterday allowed was a "contorted" piece of legislation.
White argued successfully, however, that Cowhig's alleged involvement in an illegal bingo game in the name of B&J Enterprises at the Shirley Duke Bingo Auditorium on Duke Street in Alexandria necessitated the felony charge.
Conviction of running an illegal gambling operation in Virginia carries a sentence of up to 10 years in prison and a fine of up to $20,000.
Cowhig will be tried March 5 on felony charges of conducting an illegal gambling operation in the name of Scouting USA, Explorer Post No. 885, and that he "personally received money" from the sale of an illegal gambling device known as "tear tabs."
Tear tabs are pieces of cardboard on which slot-machine style symbols such as apples, oranges and lemons are printed under paper tabs. Sold for as little as 50 cents each, a buyer rips off the tabs to see if the combination of symbols he has uncovered entitles him to a prize.
Cowhig, the first Virginia prosecutor indicted while in office, was found innocent in December of charges of accepting $34,000 in bribes from the operator of bingo games run for the Montessori School of Alexandria.