Trespassing GOP official gets a light sentence

From the Idaho Statesman

The judge says he can’t legislate from the bench, but doesn’t consider Pentico a threat.
Published: 05/12/09

The Republican Party’s libertarian wing is criticizing the conviction of a Mountain Home GOP official who defied a police order to stay away from Idaho Gov. Butch Otter’s office.

“Idahoans for Liberty,” a group including organizers of recent Tea Party events and backers of Texas Rep. Ron Paul, marched from the sentencing hearing Monday to Otter’s office.

The group said Elmore County Republican Vice Chairman Christopher Pentico’s rights to petition the government and to speak freely were violated. They asked Otter to pardon Pentico and stop enforcing the trespassing law on state property.

About 75 Pentico supporters packed the courtroom of Ada County Magistrate Kevin Swain on Monday. Swain found Pentico guilty April 21, but said the application of the trespassing law to public buildings raises “troubling questions.”

Swain said he was issuing the lightest of possible sentences and would strike Pentico’s conviction after he completes probation.

Pentico’s complaint stems in part from an incident he says occurred while he was a graduate student at Boise State University. He told the Statesman that a former university employee threatened to pull his arms from their sockets. Pentico did not complete his graduate degree, but in 2000 earned a bachelor’s degree in math and physics.

His allegations include conflicts of interest and other inappropriate actions by university and state officials to whom he has complained. Pentico, 42, has pressed his complaints for five years.

Pentico’s supporters have expanded their influence in the party, beginning last year when they helped unseat Otter’s choice for party chairman. They played a prominent role in defeating Otter’s plan for a gas tax increase and have won seats on county central committees across Idaho.

Last month, members of the Ada County Republican Central Committee tried to force a vote on a resolution alleging Otter violated Pentico’s right to due process. They won a majority on a procedural vote, but fell short of the two-thirds majority required for action.

In 2008, Idaho State Police barred Pentico from the governor’s office after repeated encounters with Otter and his staff. Though Otter said Pentico had never been threatening, his refusal to accept no for an answer was compromising his staff’s ability to do its work.

“If he’s disruptive to the staff – to the demeanor of the office – we have to remove him,” Otter told the Idaho Statesman last week.

Pentico also has spoken with Attorney General Lawrence Wasden, state schools Superintendent Tom Luna, dozens of legislators and top staffers to former Govs. Dirk Kempthorne and Jim Risch.

“He seems to think that if he comes 12 times, the answer will be different than the 11th time,” said Jon Hanian, Otter’s spokesman, after Pentico was sentenced to 30 days’ probation Monday.

Pentico has considered suing, but said Monday that too much time has passed.

Boise State spokesman Frank Zang said BSU considers the Pentico matter closed. “We reviewed and addressed any concerns he may have raised in years past. There are no current issues of which we are aware.”

Pentico was arrested after he defied a March 25, 2008, State Police order to stay away from the governor’s office, the Capitol Annex and the Department of Education. A police officer handcuffed Pentico on April 2 after Pentico returned to the governor’s office and didn’t immediately respond to an order to stop.

Swain rejected the request of the Ada County prosecutor’s office: five days in jail, two years’ probation, a $200 fine, and a ban on Pentico’s entering three offices where he was barred in 2008.

Rep. Pete Nielsen, R-Mountain Home, testified on Pentico’s behalf Monday. Nine other lawmakers signed a letter saying Pentico “has acted in a responsible and respectful manner.”

Dan Popkey: 377-6438

From the Idaho Statesman

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