NEWARK – Judge William Walls has denied a motion for a mistrial made by the defense at Sen. Bob Menendez’s corruption trial.
The case will proceed with defense witnesses, continuing the slow march to an elusive end date that will decide the senator’s fate.
Walls read his decision from the bench, faulting the defense attorneys for a mistrial motion he said was a waste of time.
“The problem with the defense is they fail to acknowledge they’re bound by the rules of evidence,” Walls said.
Some of the defense arguments, the judge said to the defense, “removes any respect I have for you making legal challenges to what I do.”
The mistrial bid began Thursday after Walls kept two defense witnesses from testifying. He heard further arguments this morning from attorneys for Menendez and his co-defendant Dr. Salomon Melgen.
In calm, measured statements that were the antithesis of the interruptions and shouting of Thursday’s arguments, defense lawyers said the judge’s actions over the last eight weeks had made it impossible for Menendez and Melgen to get a fair trial.
“The impact is what we believe to be, now, an imbalance,” Menendez attorney Abbe Lowell told the judge.
Lowell and Melgen’s lawyer Kirk Ogrosky said they were unfairly barred by Walls from introducing evidence and witnesses like Marc Elias, the lawyer who helped put together the infamous Russia dossier on President Donald Trump. Elias would have testified about his letter to the Senate Ethics Committee connected to Menendez’s January 2013 disclosure of taking flights on Melgen’s private jet.
“Our simple point is this: if it were one witness or one decision, we recognize you have the authority to make those decisions and we respect that,” Ogrosky said.
But over time, the lawyers said, Walls’ decisions, his ad hoc questioning of witnesses from the bench, and the belief his patience wears thin more quickly for the defense than prosecution took its toll.
The prosecution was having none of it arguing the mistrial attempt was a publicity stunt and blame-shifting strategy by the defense.
“First they blamed the Cuban government, then they blamed President Obama, then they blamed Roger Stone, then they blamed their own staff,” said lead prosecutor Peter Koski, listing those who he alleged were scapegoats for Menendez and Melgen since the indictment came down in 2015.
Koski said the arguments made by Lowell and Ogrosky were weak on their own, which is why the lawyers grouped them as a cumulative bunch.
“But when you add them together, zero plus zero plus zero plus zero is still zero,” Koski said.
Half an hour later, Walls returned to court and agreed with him.
“The motion for a mistrial is denied,” Walls said, “and let’s get onto our trial.”
Jurors had been out of the courtroom for the entirety of arguments. They were expected to return shortly for the defense to call another witness and continue its case.