updated 9/10/2008 6:55:26 PM ET 2008-09-10T22:55:26

Sen. Larry Craig skipped court Wednesday during arguments before an appeals panel that he should be able to take back his guilty plea in an airport men's room sex sting.

Billy Martin, the retiring Republican's attorney, offered the same arguments made earlier in the case on why Craig should be able to withdraw the misdemeanor disorderly conduct plea he quietly entered last year:

  • Craig's actions were misinterpreted by an undercover police officer.
  • The mail-in guilty plea process was insufficient.
  • Craig's conduct didn't violate the strict definition of the disorderly conduct law.

Craig, 63, was arrested last summer in a Minneapolis airport bathroom stall by an undercover officer who said he solicited sex. Martin, who was hired later, said a judge should have determined whether there was a sufficient basis for the arrest before permitting Craig to enter the mail-in plea.

A Hennepin County judge refused to allow Craig to withdraw his plea. Now a three-judge panel of the Minnesota Court of Appeals will consider the request. The appeals panel has 90 days to issue a ruling, which means it will come before Craig leaves the Senate.

Prosecutor Christopher Renz argued that the record shows Craig committed "multiple intrusions" of another person's private space.

Martin refuted the conclusions of an undercover police officer conducting a sting of men cruising for gay sex. The officer said Craig peered inside his stall, tapped a foot next to his and swiped a hand beneath the divider — all perceived invitations for a sexual encounter.

"All they can show is he stood there and looked to see if the stall was empty. That is as consistent with innocence as it is with guilt," Martin said.

Craig's fidgety behavior, Martin said, was merely reflective of a man "anxious to go to the bathroom."

Appeals Judge Thomas Kalitowski pointedly asked whether Craig lost his chance to contest the arrest on the record by going through the long-distance plea process.

"Didn't appellant waive the right to a colloquy when he signed the form?" Kalitowski asked, going on to imply that Craig "waived his right to the appearance, waived his right to speak."

After the hearing, Martin told reporters that Craig's position shouldn't hamper his ability to clear his name.

"We would hope that the fact here that the case involves a sitting United States senator would make it no different than a case involving an average citizen," he said. "Every citizen deserves the protection of our laws."

Copyright 2008 The Associated Press. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed.


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