MENENDEZ TRIAL: Judge Walls Accuses Defense Attorneys of Treating Jurors Like Idiots

NEWARK – Lashing out at defense attorneys for not the first time but certainly with the most searing rhetoric, the judge in Sen. Bob Menendez’s federal corruption trial accused the lawyers of treating jurors like idiots with “unnecessary” questions.

It was not the first such eruption from Judge William Walls, who is committed to keeping the trial moving at a fast pace. Walls has sent jurors out of the courtroom several times during the trial to admonish both prosecution and defense for what he sees as useless questions or topics.
An attorney for Menendez co-defendant Dr. Salomon Melgen was cross-examining a former CFO for Melgen friend Hank Asher about an invoice for private jet travel, asking the witness if the document indicated a number of passengers when it clearly did not. Walls interrupted and sent jurors and the witness out of the room.
“This is typical of the defense in this case, and we’ll be here til this time next year if I continue to allow you to ask needless questions,” Walls said.
Walls’ ire continued even after he stopped himself in mid-sentence after receiving a whispered message from his courtroom deputy, declared he needed to take a phone call and disappeared into his chambers for about ten minutes.
“You think the jury is stupid and naive,” Walls said upon his return. “The jury is not stupid and naive.”
Then, as he often does after a quick fit of pique, Walls put on a broad grin and made nice.
“I don’t want to soil your reputations,” he said to the defense attorneys. “Or sully them.”
His tirade about unnecessary questions aside, Walls next allowed prosecutors to put on what amounted to a 40-minute advertisement for Casa de Campo, the Dominican resort where Menendez and Melgen traveled, with questioning of the resort’s president.
Andres Pichardo Rosenberg described spas and private beaches, golf courses and restaurants, accommodations so sumptuous and inviting even Walls admitted to thinking about vacationing there. The government’s direct examination of Pichardo, complete with photos of the Caribbean seaside resort and a map projected on a huge screen for the jury to see, infuriated Menendez attorney Abbe Lowell.
Lowell frequently objected, saying Menendez never partook in any of the water sports, island-hopping day trips or relaxation activities the prosecution was describing.
“Are we going to find out how much it cost to take a massage he never took?” Lowell asked.
The line of the day, however, came from Judge Walls, who seemed to sense the prosecution strategy was geared less toward Court TV and more towards HGTV.
“Off the record, counsel,” he said to the prosecutors as the jury came back from a break, “I might think of seeing you on ‘House Hunters.'”
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