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The lawyers who defended former Westar Energy Inc. chief executive David Wittig and his top deputy during their recent trial on federal fraud charges have billed the utility $7.9 million, according to government documents. The utility has paid about $4.7 million to the lawyers and will decide later whether to pay the rest or dispute some of the fees, Westar spokeswoman Karla Olsen told the Kansas City Star. The trial of Wittig and Douglas T. Lake, Westar’s former executive vice president, ended last week when the judge declared a mistrial after the jury failed to reach a verdict on more than half of the charges. The government has not announced if it will retry the two men. The government accused Wittig and Lake of looting the Topeka, Kan.-based company, the largest electric utility in Kansas. Both men insisted their actions were legal, approved by Westar’s board of directors and disclosed in public filings. Earlier this year, the judge ruled the pair’s contracts with Westar required the company to pay their legal bills. The government has recently renewed its motion seeking to bar Westar from paying the fees. According to a filing Monday in support of the motion, the government said Wittig’s attorneys have billed $3.1 million while Lake’s have billed $4.8 million. “We may dispute some of the fees,” Olsen said. “It depends on whether there’s another trial and what the outcome of that would be.” The government maintains that Westar should not have to pay the men’s legal fees because the money is traceable to the offenses charged in the indictment. Wittig and Lake contend their employment contracts guaranteed Westar would pay their legal fees. “It’s pretty standard for any company when you sign on,” Olsen said. “If you need to defend yourself in the course of doing business, the company pays your fees. Otherwise it wouldn’t be attractive to go to work for the company.” Olsen declined to say whether Westar supported the government’s position on the fees. If the government wins, Westar would not have to pay any legal fees incurred by Wittig and Lake in future proceedings. And if Wittig and Lake are convicted in a future trial, they may be required to reimburse Westar for the fees the utility did pay. Lake’s principal attorney, Ed Little, told the Star he had not seen the government’s figures “but (Westar) certainly hasn’t paid those amounts.” “Given that the company spent more than $9 million on its internal investigation and multiples of that since, you have to review these things in relation to the size and complexity of the case,” Little said. “The defense fees are a fraction of what the company spent on the criminal case alone.” The original federal grand jury indictment of Wittig and Lake relied heavily on that internal investigation, which Westar commissioned after receiving grand jury subpoenas in September 2002 seeking information about its executives’ use of company aircraft. Copyright 2004 Associated Press. All Rights Reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten, or redistributed.

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