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SANSOM TRIAL WILL BECOME SEVERAL

State Rep. Ray Sansom and ex-college president Bob Richburg will be tried together on charges of official misconduct, a judge ruled Wednesday.

Circuit Judge Terry Lewis of Leon County also ruled that the two men will stand trial separately on perjury charges.

Lewis did not act on defense motions to dismiss charges against Sansom, Richburg and a third defendant, Destin developer Jay Odom, in part because both sides continue to file arguments with the court.

All three defendants attended Wednesday's status conference across the street from the Capitol where, prosecutors say, Sansom used his power as House budget chairman to steer millions of tax dollars to Northwest Florida State College for a building that would double as a hangar that could store aircraft for Odom's corporate jet business next door. Odom is a political ally of Sansom's and a major Republican Party donor.

State Attorney Willie Meggs had asked the judge to consolidate the charges into one trial for the sake of "judicial economy." He also said the evidence against all three men is the same.

Attorneys for all three men objected to a single trial on various legal grounds. For example, Odom's attorney said he should be tried separately because he's not charged with perjury.

Richburg's lawyer argued that Sansom's grand jury testimony implicating his client would be challenged as hearsay.

Meggs quickly relented: "We could have five trials. That would be just hunky dory to me."

The once-powerful Sansom rose to House speaker last year only to step aside in an unprecedented move after investigations began into his dealings with the college. He watched Wednesday from the front row of a small courtroom as shabbily dressed, young defendants answered to charges of car theft and burglary. Dressed in a navy blue suit, Sansom declined to comment.

His attorney, Steve Dobson, told reporters he expects Sansom's trial to begin as scheduled Sept. 29.

"He's very anxious to get this case heard and over with," Dobson said.

Dobson said there has been no discussion about Sansom resigning his House seat. Asked if Sansom would try to reclaim the speaker's post if he is found not guilty, Dobson said: "That will be a decision that will be made when this case is over."

Steve Bousquet can be reached at bousquet@sptimes.com or (850) 224-7263.

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