A North Carolina man will stand trial in Honolulu on charges he scammed the University of Hawaii out of $200,000 in a failed concert that was supposed to feature Stevie Wonder, a federal judge ruled Monday.
U.S. District Judge Leslie Kobayashi heard arguments in Honolulu on Marc Hubbard’s motion to move his trial to North Carolina or Florida. Defense attorney William Harrison argued that negative publicity over what’s been dubbed the "Wonder Blunder" prevents Hubbard from getting a fair trial in the Aloha State and that moving the trial will be more convenient because many witnesses live far away, including a woman in Spain.
Authorities say Hubbard, a club promoter from Waxhaw, N.C., claimed he had connections to secure Wonder for a fundraiser for the UH athletic department. The school paid a $200,000 deposit and began selling tickets but later learned neither Wonder nor his representatives authorized a show.
Thousands of tickets had to be refunded, leading to various investigations and embarrassment for the school.
"A term has been coined as a result of pretrial publicity in this case," Harrison argued, saying that potential jurors will have heard about the term "Wonder Blunder," "unless they’ve been sleeping under a rock."
Assistant U.S. Attorney Les Osborne argued that most of the out-of-state witnesses are in California, requiring only a five-hour plane ride to Honolulu, which he said would be easier for them than making multiple stops on a trip to North Carolina.
"Only the defendant would be inconvenienced by a trial in Hawaii," he said. He also argued that publicity focused on the university and that "there doesn’t appear to be a single article that casts any ridicule or abuse at Mr. Hubbard," whom Osborne said potential jurors have likely never heard of.
Kobayashi said Harrison made strong arguments, including that Hubbard would be tainted by negative publicity aimed at the school, but denied the motion. She said the publicity hasn’t risen to a level of widespread animosity toward Hubbard.
She said attorneys may refile the venue change motion if circumstances change closer to trial, scheduled for March.
Osborne said he’s not sure trial can begin by then because he plans to file a motion to use a deposition from the witness in Spain, who is unable to travel to Hawaii because she is caring for her children and an ailing mother.
Harrison said he will oppose that motion.
Jennifer Sinco Kelleher, Associated Press