Nice try. A last-ditch effort to derail the corruption trial of Senator Robert Menendez (D-NJ) with a motion for mistrial flopped with Judge William Walls when court resumed. The ruling sets the stage for the jury to get the case soon, perhaps this week:
U.S. Senator Robert Menendez will have to press ahead with his defense in a New Jersey corruption trial after a judge rejected a request for a mistrial.
U.S. District Judge William Walls characterized it as “nothing more than a colossal motion for reconsideration” of his earlier rulings.
Menendez’ attorneys based the motion in part on a supposed failure by Walls to properly instruct a jury on disregarding a prosecutor’s argumentative statement during cross-examination. Needless to say, Walls didn’t take kindly to the complaint. He scoffed that the motion had “not even palpable merit,” and belittled the complaints about his actions:
Once again on Monday, Walls batted away any suggestion of judicial misconduct on his part, especially in regard to his failure to adequately address a “throw away” comment from the prosecutor earlier this month.
On cross-examination of Melgen’s wife regarding a check then-Florida Gov. Charlie Crist wrote to the Melgen family for their hospitality in the Dominican Republic in 2009, prosecutor Monique Abrishami ended with a bang: “So at least this politician knows how to pay your husband back for things?”
Defense attorneys raised the issue last week as an example of uneven treatment during the trial given the judge’s reaction was to tell the prosecutor “good try” before instructing the jury to disregard the question.
“In 30 something years on the bench, I’ve never heard a more silly objection,” Walls said — appearing baffled Monday at the suggestion that he could have done anything more to cure the situation. “I don’t know what I was supposed to do, bring in the firing squad?”
The other complaints in the motion are aimed at Walls’ rulings on relevance. The defense wanted to call a number of witnesses to delve into the disputes over the port contract and Medicare reimbursements in order to impress on the jury the legitimacy of Salomon Melgen’s positions. Walls has limited the questioning where it has been repetitive and ruled that the nature of the disputes aren’t relevant. The only issue of relevance was whether Melgen and Menendez had entered into a bribery relationship to benefit Melgen in the disputes, Walls ruled, and stuck by those decisions today:
On frequent occasions, Walls has justified his rulings by saying the defense’s evidence is either irrelevant or repetitive and that Melgen’s disputes aren’t an issue for the jury to decide — only whether a bribery arrangement existed.
On Monday, he didn’t budge.
The defense “wants to spend morning, noon and night” discussing details of the port contract and the Medicare dispute,” he said. “It’s a question for this court to determine when enough is enough.”
The mistrial motion was basically the last shot Menendez and Melgen had to avoid the jury. With that out of the way, the defense rested this afternoon. The jury will get the case without hearing from the two defendants:
The defense in the bribery trial of U.S. Sen. Bob Menendez rested its case Monday, shortly after the judge turned down a bid to have a mistrial declared over his rulings during the trial.
Neither the Democratic senator from New Jersey nor co-defendant Salomon Melgen, a Florida eye doctor, testified during the trial, which in its ninth week. Closing arguments are expected later this week after the judge and attorneys settle on instructions for the jury.
Don’t necessarily expect this to be a slam dunk for the prosecution. They didn’t come up with a smoking quid pro quo gun, such as a memo or recording of an explicit agreement of bribery. The prosecution built a good circumstantial case that includes official acts (required in McDonnell) and plenty of benefits, showing also that Menendez tended to hide those when he could. It will still come down to the jury’s discernment on whether Menendez intended to use official acts to garner those benefits, and as litigators will tell you, a jury can be a real crapshoot when it comes to circumstantial cases.