Former congressman Otto Passman (D-La.) yesterday was found to be mentally and physically competent to stand trial on charges of tax evasion and bribery in connection with the Korean influence buying scandal.
U.S. District Court Judge Barrington D. Parker issued the ruling after hearing a week's testimony from doctors and other witnesses about the 78-year-old former legislator's health. Those witnesses had agreed for the most part that Passman was suffering from brain damage and other diseases related to senility, as well as depression with apparent sucidal tendencies.
However, the judge pointed out in his 45-minute oral ruling, Passman's ability to stand trial depended on the degree of those mental or physical problems rather than their mere existence.
"Perfect physical and mental health is not required. Good physical and mental health is not required." Parker said.
Rather, Passman needed only to have a rational understanding of the trial process to be able to help his lawyers in their preparation and defense of the case, Parker said.
Passman was arraigned earlier yesterday before Parker on charges connected with his alleged acceptance of about $213,000 in bribes from businessman Tongsun Park while helping park become the go-between in rice sales to South Korea.
"I'm not guilty, your honor," Passman said to each of the two separate indictments against him. Both cases will be tried at the same time before Parker, but no trail date has been set.
During last week's hearings, Passman sat at the defense table with his hand cupped over his ear as doctor gave detailed testimony about his brain problems, his depression and the fact that he could die from some of his ailments.
One doctor said Passman told him as recenly as last week that he felt suicidal over the charges pending against him.
Justice attorney David R. Scott again noted after parker's ruling that Passman was suicidal, and suggested the judge assign nurses to monitor Passman or admit him to a hospital.
Parker instead ordered Passman to rethem "exaggerated."
Parker instead ordered Passman to report to the U.S. marshal's office in the courthouse cellblock fingerprinting and other processing before being released on personal bond. Passman must also surrender his passport.
In ruling that the former congressman must stand trial, Parker said he found that the "impact of the legal proceedings is not so great as to cause a substantial risk of selfdestruction."
He noted that Passman, who had a virtual veto on foreign appropriations while serving on a House subcommittee, had been "passive and unemotional" during the hearings but also that he had been "responsive and attentive to selective testimony."