NEWARK – The corruption trial of Sen. Bob Menendez adjourned today with the case in limbo thanks to a defense motion for a mistrial, but Judge William Walls gave every indication he viewed the mistrial arguments as baseless and would have the trial proceed as scheduled on Monday.
The defense arguments capped a whirlwind, wild day that started with fellow New Jersey Sen. Cory Booker vouching for Menendez’s credibility, had the lawyer behind the infamous Trump dossier excused as a witness without ever testifying, and ended with an airing of grievances by defense lawyers.
Defense lawyers for the senator and his co-defendant Dr. Salomon Melgen argued for a mistrial based on judicial misconduct, saying Walls had not been a fair arbiter of the proceedings.
“I am saying we have been precluded from putting on a defense,” Kirk Ogrosky, Melgen’s lead defense attorney, told the judge.
Walls will take written briefs from the attorneys over the weekend and may put the issue to rest on Monday.
Ogrosky argued the judge had only cautioned the jury on weighing the evidence when the defense was presenting, and had ruled out evidence from the defense as cumulative but allowed prosecutors to present numerous exhibits without censoring.
“There comes a point where the weight of the evidence – you let the government tell their side of the story and we’re not allowed to tell our side,” said Ogrosky.
“You have precluded the defense from putting on exhibits as to factors in (their) weight that will appear when the jury goes back into that room,” said Ogrosky, pointing at the door to the jury room.
Occasionally talking over each other and holding nothing back, the hearing more resembled a family therapy session where children vent bottled-up hatred of an overbearing father than a calm legal argument.
“I feel sometimes I can’t even finish a sentence without you interrupting,” Menendez attorney Abbe Lowell said. “Then you say, ‘Go on,’ but I can’t go on because you’ve interrupted the flow.”
Lowell complained the judge would not let the defense bring into evidence crucial documents that would shoe Menendez’s state of mind when he took meetings with government officials. He mocked the prosecution, which was allowed to bring in evidence on “luxury bathrobes” and pictures of beaches no one ever used.”
The “straw” that broke the defense’s back, according to Walls, was the judge’s refusal to allow lawyer Marc Elias to testify. Elias, who has gained renown recently for being behind an explosive dossier tying President Donald Trump to Russia, was going to testify Menendez’s trip on a chartered flight in October 2010 was a political necessity. Walls barred him from testifying as well as another attorney, Jose Garcia.
“I’m not asking you to abandon the rules,” Ogrosky told the judge. “I’m asking you to apply them fairly.”
The defense also renewed long-standing objections that they were not able to present enough evidence that Medicare has confusing drug reimbursement policies, which could bolster Menendez’s case he was not just helping Melgen when he intervened. Walls stood his ground.
“Whether consciously or unconsciously, you want to keep beating on the issue and you’ve been beating it so much it’s flat,” Walls said.
“That’s where you and I call each other wrong,” Walls said to Ogrosky. “But, guess what? I decide that.”