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Judge denies request to delay trial for former Idaho representative accused of rape

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In this file photo, Rep. Aaron von Ehlinger, R-Lewiston (left), and his attorney, Edward Dindinger, seated in the Lincoln Auditorium at the Idaho Capitol before the House Ethics Committee hearing in April 2021. (Kelcie Moseley-Morris/Idaho Capital Sun).

Former Rep. Aaron von Ehlinger, accused of assaulting legislative intern, to face trial on April 26

Fourth District Judge Michael Reardon denied a request to postpone the trial date for former state Rep. Aaron von Ehlinger, who is charged with felony rape and forcible penetration of a foreign object, and the trial will still go forward on April 26.

Von Ehlinger, 39, is accused of raping a 19-year-old legislative intern in March 2021, when the former intern said the two went to dinner and then his apartment. Von Ehlinger has pleaded not guilty to the charges and has said the sexual activity was consensual.

Von Ehlinger’s attorney in the case, Jon Cox, told the court Monday he expected the trial would be delayed based on his understanding of the priority the courts assigned to jury trials when COVID-19 case numbers were high. In past cases, the court was giving first priority to criminal trials involving a defendant who was in jail. Von Ehlinger has not been in state custody since he was arrested and released in October.

Now that COVID case numbers are low, Idaho Supreme Court spokesperson Nate Poppino said judges have more discretion over setting priority for jury trials.

Idaho justices have talked publicly about a severe backlog of cases because of the pandemic and a lack of judges across Idaho. In February, Ada County Administrative District Judge Steven Hippler said conservative estimates of the backlog on criminal jury trials in his county was 350 to 500 cases. Reardon said pushing back von Ehlinger’s trial date would only create a larger backlog.

“It is not well-informed practice to rely on an ad-hoc priority list when there’s an order in the case that’s been outstanding that sets the case for trial on a specific date, and a date the parties agreed to at the time it was set,” Reardon said.

Cox said he had other court activity and engagements scheduled that would conflict with von Ehlinger’s scheduled trial date but said he would be prepared for the trial next week if he had to be.

“It was a mistake on my part to rely on the priority list that had come out,” Cox said.

Von Ehlinger served in the Idaho Legislature for less than one year, representing the Lewiston area, after he was appointed to fill the seat held by the late Rep. Thyra Stevenson. Following ethics hearings about his alleged conduct, von Ehlinger resigned his seat at the end of April 2021.

The trial is scheduled to last five days and will begin at 8 a.m. April 26. If convicted, von Ehlinger would face between one year and life in prison and have to register with the Idaho sex offender registry, according to Idaho Code.